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PARK OWNER THREATENS TO CLOSE SHOP.
Albany Times Union (Albany, NY)
June 25, 1988
Byline: Marc Carey Staff writer
Faced with what he called excessive town nitpicking, the operator of the multimillion-dollar Great Escape Fun Park threatened Friday to pack up his rides and leave town.
The town Planning Board on Thursday tabled action that would have allowed Charles Wood to obtain a certificate of occupancy for his new Bavarian Palace on the amusement park grounds.
“It’s a sad day,” said Wood, who has operated the 150-acre amusement park since 1954. He said if the situation is not resolved, he will close the park Sept. 11, the end of the current season.
“If they don’t stop … and make an agreement with what is needed to be done … unless they do that, when we close, that will be the end of the Great Escape and Storytown in the Lake George area,” Wood said Friday.
“Charlie picked up his marbles and walked home last night in kind of a huff,” Planning Board Chairman Richard Roberts said Friday. “It has been kind of a comedy of errors and part of it is the responsibility of the town.”
Although Wood had obtained necessary town permits to erect the restaurant, Town Supervisor Stephen Borgos said a problem arose this year over a little-known revision to a town ordinance that required a site plan review for a plot of land proposed for use as a restaurant.
Borgos said the town Building Department had issued Wood the permits because department handbooks do not reflect the planning amendment.
“I don’t see any evidence that indicates in any way an attempt by Mr. Wood or any of his associates to break any of the rules,” Borgos said.
Roberts said the problem had essentially been dumped on the Planning Board, which is seeking to complete its site review and get information about such things as parking and the septic system.
Wood claimed he was unable to get an answer from the town about any improvements or changes it wanted made on the site.
He said he had spent $800,000 for the building, which he bought from the Vancouver World’s Fair “because it’s … just a beautiful piece of construction.”
Wood said he already has had two offers to build similar parks in what he described as the mid-South and the South.
Borgos said the situation was a major misunderstanding resulting from “growing pains” stemming from development in the town.
“We can’t clear up 20 to 30 years of problems or concerns overnight,” noted Borgos. Referring to Wood, he said, “I understand and share his frustration.”
Borgos said the Great Escape was not an isolated case, noting work had been stopped recently on a school and church, while a moratorium is in effect on the construction of residential subdivisions.
The supervisor also said the Planning Board might have been trying to single out Wood as an example. “That’s a feeling I’m getting,” he said.
But Roberts said, “I don’t feel that’s the case. I think we’ll be able to work it out.”
Borgos said he was attempting to contact Wood late Friday to set up a meeting. “I’m going to try to be the mediator,” he said.
The supervisor acknowledged the amusement park was a large economic factor in the community.
According to Wood, the park, which he said was worth “anywhere from $17 (million) to $20 million,” pays $500,000 yearly in sales tax to Warren County and another $100,000 in property taxes.
In 1987, Wood said, he donated $1.75 million to charity, including $1.4 million raised from the auction of a rare Duesenberg car formerly owned by actress Greta Garbo. The money raised through the auction benefited the Hyde Collection art museum in Glens Falls.
Wood said he employs about 500 workers at the park annually.
BUILDING SAVED, GREAT ESCAPE OWNER DROPS THREAT TO CLOSE.
Albany Times Union (Albany, NY)
September 10, 1988
The operator of the Great Escape amusement park just south of Lake George withdrew his threat to permanently close the park after the town Planning Board reversed itself and approved a building on the park grounds.
Earlier this year, owner Charles Wood had threatened to dismantle the park because the Planning Board had said the building was erected illegally and would have to come down.
Wood, in a prepared statment, said he was pleased that he and the board were able to reach an agreement. He credited the accord to support from the public, which “encouraged me to work closely with the town of Queensbury in negotiating various points so that we could reach an agreement.”
The Bavarian Palace was brought to the park from the World’s Fair in Vancouver, Wood said, and about $1 million was spent on a new roof, kitchens and fireproofing the interior walls to meet state standards.
The board ruled Wood had violated town building codes and ordered the building be torn down.
However, town officials later said Wood had complied with the code, as it was given to him, and did not violate the terms of the building permit. Apparently, the copy of the building code used to grant the building permit had not been updated, officials said.
The Planning Board voted 6-1 Thursday night to grant a permanent certificate of occupancy with some new restrictions which have been worked out with Wood.
Premier Parks acquisition plan gets under way; Tool to aid towns’
Journal Record, The (Oklahoma City)
Aug 29, 1996
An initial public offering made earlier this year has set the ball rolling in Premier Parks Inc.’s goal of acquiring more amusement facilities.
Despite the planned acquisition of New York state’s largest amusement park, announced this week, won’t move Premier Parks up from its position as fourth largest theme park company in the United States.
Premier Parks, owner of Frontier City and White Water Bay in Oklahoma City, is buying The Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom.
The financial terms of the deal, expected to close in December, were not revealed.
Charles Wood founded The Great Escape in 1954 as Storytown, USA. The park has since grown into the biggest in New York with more than 125 rides, shows and attractions, including its Comet wooden roller coaster — consistently rated among the best in the world.
“Premier Parks is noted in the industry as an innovator when it comes to owning and operating theme parks,” Wood said. “They know the business and perhaps, most importantly, have the resources to make things happen.”
Premier Parks plans to add attractions to the New York park, however, renovation plans are not final.
“The tag line (for Premier Parks) has always been providing family entertainment close to home and at an affordable price.
The Great Escape fits exactly within that philosophy,” said James F. Dannhauser, chief financial officer.
The deal means Premier will now operate the two largest amusement parks in New York state. Premier acquired Darien Lake Theme Park and Camping Resort in August 1995. Premier invested more than $10 million in new attractions and improvements this past year at Darien Lake, located about 25 miles east of Buffalo.
Premier also owns three other parks, two of which were also purchased last summer: Adventure World, between Baltimore, Md. and Washington, D.C.; Geauga Lake in Cleveland; and Wyandot Lake in Columbus, Ohio.
Premier Parks, which has offices in Oklahoma City and New York City, earlier this year was named the 10th largest theme park chain in the world.
As of year-end 1995, the company had total assets of $173 million. Premier Parks has a total of 4,700 seasonal and full-time employees.
The Great Escape will add 740 employees.
In 1995, Premier Parks had an aggregate attendance of 4.1 million. Estimated attendance for 1996 is 4.5 million, excluding The Great Escape.
“Including this park, we’ve acquired six parks in last five years,” Dannhauser said.
“The next step for us is to continue to plan to grow the company.”
The $57 million initial public offering completed in May was designed to allow Premier Parks to both purchase additional parks and expand existing parks, he said.
“It is absolutely our intention to continue to pursue acquisition opportunities in the theme park business on into the future,” Dannhauser said.
However, no specific transactions are planned in addition to The Great Escape.
An economic development tool designed to help smaller communities in the state is one step closer to reality.
It will be a month, however, before anyone knows exactly what that tool will be and how it will work.
The tool is the 1996 Industrial Facilities Financing Program, designed to use the financial muscle and knowledge of the Oklahoma Industrial Finance Authority and the Oklahoma Development Finance Authority to help those communities.
Not only will state-level design and development assistance be available, but the program also is being created to allow state purchasing power to be available for assistance.
Communities with new facilities built under the program also would be included in the Oklahoma Department of Commerce advertising and recruiting efforts.
Proposals for developing and financing the program are expected to be made at the next meeting of the Oklahoma Finance Authorities, scheduled for Sept. 25.
The authorities, meeting in special session Wednesday, appointed a committee to study four development proposals and eight financing proposals.
“We hope to interview companies with the top proposals and bring back a recommendation at the next board meeting,” said Jim Fulmer, president and CEO of the authorities. “I don’t think that it will take too long; we should have a recommendation within 30 days.”
Development proposals came from Americon Development Corp. of Oklahoma City and Las Vegas; Marks and Associates of Guthrie; Associated General Contractors of America of Oklahoma City, and a joint venture from Zaremba Group Inc. of Lakewood, Ohio, and the Benham Group of Oklahoma City.
Financing proposals came from Boatmen’s First National Bank of Oklahoma; Bank of Nova Scotia; BankFirst of Oklahoma City; the New York branch of Landesbank Hessen-Thuringen of Frankfurt, Germany; Liberty Bank & Trust Co. of Oklahoma City; national Westminister Bank of New York City; Bankers Trust New York Corp.; and the Dallas branch of the Banque Nationale de Paris.
“These are all interesting and complicated proposals,” Fulmer said.
A committee composed of Fulmer, Senior Vice President David Hinkle, board members John Goad and D.R. Shipley and outside consultant Mike Woody was named to study the proposals and make a recommendation.
The committee will become a standing group to also review applications as they are received from the communities, Chairman Homer Paul said.
Under the program, local money available for building facilities to recruit new industry — or helping expanding existing industry — would be leveraged into a better facility with statewide assistance, Fulmer said.
“We don’t want to tell the local community how to do something,” he said. “We are not re-inventing the wheel here. But sometimes we can work with the local community and the potential recruit to explain what facilities are there, what’s needed and the right infrastructure necessary to attract a large company.”
The idea behind the program is to turn Oklahoma into a large industrial park for economic development, Hinkle said.
“The benefit is exposure for the local communities and their facilities in a national advertising and recruiting campaign,” he said.