MATT WESTERHOLD: Getting to the Point of it all

Managing Editor, Sandusky Register Word of the proposed deal to sell Cedar Fair, Cedar Point and all
Matt Westerhold
May 24, 2010

Managing Editor, Sandusky Register

Word of the proposed deal to sell Cedar Fair, Cedar Point and all of the company's other amusement parks first hit the newsroom late Wednesday afternoon. One reader called it "the biggest news story to hit Erie County in 50 years."

The deal to have the company go private won't happen without at least two-thirds of the partner-owners who hold unit shares approving it, but even the possibility of a sale sent shock waves from Wall Street to Sandusky.

Especially Sandusky, and Erie County.

The first news story went online Wednesday at sanduskyregister.com, and readers commenting at the Web site already were talking about de-constructing rollercoasters and the possibility Cedar Point would close.

It was as if a tsunami formed on Lake Erie and hit the shores. And it would be exactly that, a tsunami, if anything happened to cause Cedar Point to suddenly not be there.

It's safe to assume, however, Cedar Point will still be Cedar Point come next spring. The park's patrons will flock back like they do every year, and maybe in even larger numbers, reversing the downward trend in attendance in recent years. And they'll come back in 2011 and in 2012 and beyond.

But never say never.

No country on earth was ever going to produce a better automobile than Detroit, and General Motors was never going to go bankrupt? The World Trade Center towers were never going to fall? Who knew, who knew?

The first news tips came from local stockbrokers who were wading through initial reports from the Securities and Exchange Commission in New York. Within a few short hours, reporter Tom Jackson was on the road trying to track down Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel and Peter Crage, the company's chief financial officer, knocking on doors in well-to-do neighborhoods.

By Thursday morning, Kinzel had agreed to an interview with Jackson and did his best to set the record straight. Anyone who has ever met Kinzel or had an opportunity to talk with him likely will tell you he is as straight a shooter as you can find. Kinzel assured readers that not much would change with Cedar Point, or with Cedar Fair, and the corporate headquarters will stay put in Sandusky.

The full interview with Kinzel was posted at the Web site the next day, and most people who listen to it probably will find it very believable and full of good details. It's easy to believe Kinzel believes completely that not much will change.

But ...

Once ownership changes, control of Cedar Fair will be handed over -- from the publicly traded model to private ownership -- and that control equals the power to change the way things have been. Kinzel will still be the boss, but the boss will have some new bosses, all based in New York.

And while most local residents aren't unitholders in Cedar Point, we're all partners in a larger sense. Facts in the news stories since Wednesday bear that out: The city receives more than $2 million annually in admissions taxes generated by Cedar Point, in addition to the payroll taxes employees pay the city. And Sandusky Schools get more than $1.5 million annually as its share of property taxes the park pays.

But that is just the tip of the iceberg. Countless businesses related to leisure time activities have located here because Cedar Point is here, and the jobs and money that creates have become the backbone of the local economy as we watched the manufacturing sector wither away. Vacationland is Vacationland, and Cedar Point is its heart.