Knott family not excited about Cedar Fair sale

SANDUSKY The family behind Knott's Berry Farm is trying to decide whether they are ready for a compl
Tom Jackson
Mar 8, 2010

SANDUSKY

The family behind Knott's Berry Farm is trying to decide whether they are ready for a complete separation from the historic amusement park the Knotts created and used to run.

When Cedar Fair bought the Buena Vista, Calif., park in 1997, the Knott family acquired 2 million ownership shares in Cedar Fair, ensuring family members still have a stake in the company that runs Knott's Berry Farm.

The planned acquisition of Cedar Fair by Apollo Global Management would sever the family's remaining connection to the park.

"That's our heritage. We worked very, very hard through the years," said Stephen Knott, 68, the grandson of Knott's Berry Farm founder, Walter Knott. "I hate to just think of having a small pot of money and nothing else."

The family has reservations about the pending sale and is trying to decide how to vote, Knott said.

"At this time, I haven't fully decided," Knott said.

Investors who own units of Cedar Fair are being offered $11.50 per unit. Within a few weeks, they'll be asked to vote to approve the merger with Apollo. To go through, the deal must be OK'd by at least two-thirds of unitholders. There are about 55.2 million outstanding units, and thus 55.2 million votes that may be cast.

Knott said he and his mother and his brother own 2 million shares.

"We do have some say in which direction the sale will go," he observed.

He said Cedar Fair has made no special effort so far to reach out to his family. Knott lives in Fullerton, Calif., only 15 minutes away from Knott's Berry Farm.

"That's why I lived in Fullerton," he said. "I was on call 24 hours a day."

Walter Knott helped develop the boysenberry, a berry that combined the raspberry, blackberry and loganberry, and sold berries and berry pies from a roadside stand. The family grew the operation to include a restaurant that sold chicken dinners. Knott then built a ghost town at the site and added rides.

The success of Knott's Berry Farm helped inspire Disneyland, which opened in 1955, and the Knotts and the Disneys became friends.

"Walt Disney came out on several occasions," he said.

Disneyland actually helped Knott's Berry Farm by pulling crowds into the area, and when one theme park ran out of quarters, the other would help.

"Amusement parks need quarters," he explained. "They would run out and we'd send some over, or they would do it for us."

The Knotts like Cedar Fair.

"We think very highly of Cedar Fair," he said. "We enjoyed the relationship that we have had with them. They run parks very similar to us. We had a pretty happy marriage with them."

Knott said he didn't agree, however, with all of the debt Cedar Fair took on in 2006 to acquire the former Paramount theme parks.

"I think this was the downfall of Cedar Fair," he said, noting that the Apollo deal puts the Knott family in an awkward position. "I really don't like the idea of selling to another group."

Click here to read more about the potential Cedar Fair sale