Geauga Lake and Premier Parks

Part Six of the Series, What Happened to SeaWorld of Ohio?

Frontier City Logo

The purpose of this website is straightforward. SeaWorld of Ohio and Wildwater Kingdom Ohio were (at different times) a theme park that lots of people attended and enjoyed. Now they are closed. I have pictures from the last season of Wildwater Kingdom. Combined with pictures that you are willing to send, Friends of the Whale is a website tribute to a part of Ohio history that is now gone.

Seems simple enough.

However, for people that remember Geauga Lake and SeaWorld of Ohio, some are hurt, frustrated, or angry that the parks have closed. For others who are younger, when they stumble across the history of the closed parks, they ask what happened to SeaWorld, Geauga Lake, and the combined parks of Six Flags Ohio? They were once the largest theme park in the world-now they have vanished.

The story of SeaWorld of Ohio begins a turn in 1995. That year, Funtime Inc, owner of Geauga Lake, sold itself to a company called Premier Parks.

To this point in Geauga Lake and SeaWorld Ohio’s history, there wasn’t much of a story. The parks opened and people visited. A day at the park, literally. Here the story adds drama. This would change everything.

Oddly enough, what’s most important here is not who bought Geauga Lake, but when.

Premier Parks was an Oklahoma based operator of amusement parks. It started life as the Tierco Group, a real estate company. Such companies are fairly ordinary. and in most towns, every mall, shopping center and office park has some company like Tierco behind them.

Tierco purchased an Oklahoma amusement park in the early 1980s called Frontier City. They planned to demolish it and develop the land for other businesses. That didn’t work out, however. An economic downturn left the company stuck with the park as it was. Tierco decided to hire new staff to manage the park and instead invested in Frontier City.

Tierco’s strategy led to increased attendance and higher profits. The company saw an upside in amusement park business. By the end of the decade it was selling its other properties to generate cash to invest in Frontier City, and also to buy some other distressed small amusement and water parks.

By 1994, the company had renamed itself Premier Parks. The management team had shown that they could successfully turn around amusement parks and be a profitable operator. This is a formula that makes other things possible for companies. Premier Parks was about to take advantage of this.

Premier Parks was able to attract a type of investment called private equity. PE firms raise capital from wealthy individuals and companies which they invest in high growth companies, often times allowing the PE firm to sell their ownership later for a premium (getting a higher return than investing in the stock market, for example). They key here is growth.

As I said, the most important thing may be when all this took place. In 1995, Premier Parks used its private equity funding to buy Funtime, Inc, which included Geauga Lake, Wyandot Lake in Columbus, and Darien Lake in New York.

Premier Parks had no plans to stop buying yet, however.