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City of Santa Clara (santaclaraca.gov)

California’s Great America Theme Park To Close Within 10 Years Following $310 Million Land Sale

Sale and closure expected to have major political fallout in coming years

By Evan Symon, June 28, 2022 1:24 pm

Amusement Park Company Cedar Fair announced on Tuesday that the California’s Great America theme park has sold the land that the park is on and will be closing within the next 10 years, likely trigging local, regional, and statewide political fallout.

Opened in the city of Santa Clara in 1976 as Marriott’s Great America, the park has gone through numerous ownership changes throughout the years, including being bought by the city in 1985, by Paramount in 1993, and by Cedar Fair in 2006. More recently, in 2014, Levi’s Stadium, home of the San Francisco 49ers, opened next door, putting some stresses on parking lots around the area. Five years later, in 2019, Cedar Fair had purchased the land that the park is on from the city of Santa Clara for $150 million, following over 40 years of lease agreements.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020, the amusement park industry was decimated by mass temporary closures due to concern over the spread of the virus in crowds. California’s Great America didn’t even open in 2020 due to the pandemic, and was only opened on a limited basis in 2021. Cedar Fair saw huge losses company-wide as a result. During a strategic revue in 2021, the company saw an opportunity to sell the land in Santa Clara, with a $310 million finalization with Bay Area real estate company Prologis earlier this year.

“Cedar Fair intends to use proceeds from the land sale transaction to accelerate progress on its strategic priorities of reducing debt to achieve its $2 billion target, investing in high-return projects within its portfolio such as upgrading resort properties, and reinstating a sustainable unitholder distribution,” noted the company.

The sale was announced on Tuesday, with Cedar Fair CEO Richard Zimmerman announcing that “We chose Prologis as our partner because of their deep ties in the Bay Area and their reputation for working closely with local communities on large developments. For our investors, the sale and lease agreements allow us to monetize a high-value asset in the heart of Silicon Valley at a very attractive multiple.”

A lease agreement has been made though, ensuring the park will continue to operate in the short-term for several more seasons, but with an ultimate closure by 2033.

Political implications of sale

Many observers were quick to point out how the deal was almost solely based on money, and not about the park itself or concern for locals.

“It doesn’t take a genius to see what happened,” Alex Dunn, a Bay Area based real estate advisor who assists in land deals across the state, told the Globe on Tuesday. “The company was still hurting after COVID and they saw a chance to over double their land investment from only a few years ago to get some quick cash to help the company out to reduce debt. Not once did they even consider what this would do to the local population, or the amount of jobs this will cost, or anything like that it seems. Their press release was purely financial, which is odd coming from an amusement park company.”

“Whenever an announcement like this is made, attendance usually craters. Look up the history of any sold sports team that announces they will move in a few years and see what the fans do. They usually made a surprise, like Astroworld in Texas when they closed rather quickly so they didn’t have to face a huge decline. It’s obvious that they failed to see the big picture in all this. And you can say that includes the political implications.”

On Tuesday, the city of Santa Clara would not say what the economic impact would be, due to no plans for the land being submitted yet, but did note the future loss of the park.

“The city does not know of any plans on how the California’s Great America property will be used in the future by the new property owner, so we cannot comment on the economic impacts or benefits,” said the City of Santa Clara in a statement. “However, like all our businesses, large or small, we value and appreciate what California’s Great America has brought to our community since establishing in the City of Santa Clara in 1976. They have impacted millions and millions of visitors throughout the world and locally. The City of Santa Clara has enjoyed the partnership with California Great America.”

Mayor Lisa Gillmor noted the importance of the park and the hope that it would remain open for as long as possible.

“On the surface, it appears Great America will change in the short term,” said Mayor Gillmor. “My hope and goal is to keep Great America there as long as possible in the long term.”

Many political experts noted that the closing can be used as ammunition in races in the area for years now.

“The loss of a major amusement park, especially one with strong memories, can definitely cause waves,” said Paula Ward, a political researcher who focuses on how the entertainment industry influences local elections, to the Globe on Tuesday. “When local parks, like Chicago’s Riverview Park or Boston’s Revere Beach closed in the 60’s, same with Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica, local elections were upended. Same with closures in the 2000’s, like with Astroworld in Houston. Many politicians were charged with not doing enough to save them.”

“Here, the city sold the land in 2019, so you can bet there will be some digging into who exactly was behind this, and if they were elected in, it won’t look good. If not for not saving the park, but literally throwing $160 million down the drain by not holding the land for a few years. I mean, my god that is a lot.  And with this, plus locals furious for losing such a place, Santa Clara suddenly has a huge political issue standing around for the next several years. They were hoisted by their own petard on this one.”

California’s Great Adventure is expected to close by 2033 under the new sale and operating lease.

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8 thoughts on “California’s Great America Theme Park To Close Within 10 Years Following $310 Million Land Sale

  1. I have mixed feelings about this. I spent my 14th birthday there because I was too young to drive and just had the best time on the Old Fashion Car ride. It was innocent fun in the 70’s. In the 90’s my kids and I lived close enough we would go at least once a weak and they would hang out in the Smurf zone. Now forward to the 20’s, not so safe at night and too crowded when the niners are in town as traffic is a nightmare. I have fond memories but all good things must come to an end.

    1. I really liked your personal memories of this park, Cali Girl. Really seems a terrible shame to have a park like this one go away. But I hear you about current problems such as safety and traffic making the park less desirable over time anyway. Even though I think it is a smaller, different park than California’s Great America I can still remember Pacific Ocean Park in Santa Monica, the atmosphere of it and riding the wooden roller coaster (that went over the ocean!) and how the park degraded over the years. Sounds as though CA’s Great America was another victim of “Covid,” too. It’s sad to lose parks like this. Thanks for sharing your memories, CG —- SO much better and more welcome than reading the sterile ‘financial statement’ of the park and land principals.

      1. Yes, it is a change of pace, a real slice of life. The Pacific Ocean Park sounds divine. It seems that with extra care, the park would have been a great timeless destination. Great America had survived many potential shut downs over the years. I guess it became a victim of Newsom’s shut down policies, but the owners will make a handsome profit. Kids are running out of fun spaces to escape to.

  2. Ever since 49ers, moved there it was a on the roadmap for closure. Youth have less to do, but they can go out and steal under $950 as entertainment.

    Sadly, Bay Area has lost theme parks over the years, Frontier Village to Marine World and now Great America.

    I wonder how much longer Gilroy Gardens and Discovery Kingdom have left.

  3. Here’s a crazy idea….. How about using that area for: 1) A large (secured) inpatient mental health / drug rehab facility, and 2) Housing for “people experiencing homelessness”? This would create tons of jobs for local bay area residents. It would be a huge benefit for the mentally ill and those who are drug-addicted. Think about how many homeless we could get off of the streets? Just sayin’…..

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