The purchase and subsequent closure of Geauga Lake by Cedar Fair, LLP evoked concern within the enthusiast and preservationist communities from almost the moment it happened. At the forefront of this concern was the future of the venerated park’s classic Big Dipper roller coaster, which is the country’s seventh oldest roller coaster. ACE has made saving this coaster one of its highest priorities. Although the park was home to two other wooden coasters, it was Big Dipper that attracted preservationists’ attention due to its age and status as an ACE Coaster Classic. Almost immediately, members of ACE’s Executive Committee began a dialogue with government officials, business leaders, and Cedar Fair executives, hoping to come to an agreeable solution to save this highly regarded coaster. Possible solutions included dismantling the ride and reconstructing it at another Cedar Fair property, dismantling the ride and storing it for future erection, or keeping it on site as part of a new, multi-use development.
The coasters were advertised as being for sale in November of 2007 and after no offers surfaced, the coasters were put up for auction by Cedar Fair management along with many other items from the Geauga Lake property. On June 17, 2008, Big Dipper, was sold at auction to APEX Western Machinery Movers of Akron, Ohio. Although it has not been made clear when Cedar Fair accepted the offer, the agent who allegedly represented the buyer, Tom Woosnam, had the only bid for the historic coaster. He purchased Big Dipper for $5000, along with Raging Wolf Bobs for $2500, for an undisclosed buyer whose identity and future plans were to be revealed before the end of June, but have not been disclosed to date.
A few days later, Mr. Woosnam offered Big Dipper to ACE through the buyer, but under certain conditions. On the surface it appeared to be a generous offer, but it was contingent upon ACE hiring a specific company that Mr. Woosnam represents, to have it removed at a set price. That price is two to three times higher than a price that ACE received for deconstruction from an independent and trusted company that has had experience moving coasters.
While Mr. Woosnam continues to claim he is acting on behalf of the real owner, which he steadily refuses to identify, he also gave ACE a deadline to accept or refuse the offer by noon, July 9, 2008. Meanwhile, several inquiries made by ACE, as well as by the press, concerning pertinent details about the new owner have gone unanswered. Cedar Fair representatives have responded to ACE’s voiced concerns by stating that the situation is out of their hands now while the proposed plans that the owner had for the two coasters have never made it to light. Many of the questions posed by ACE still fail to be answered. Many ACE Executive Committee members found e-mails returned by Mr. Woosnam to President Cole to be pointedly insulting and condescending for no particular reason. Furthermore, rash deadlines and hurried requirements have resulted in the ACE board proceeding with caution. ACE has also learned that a very troubling situation arose from a previous arrangement involving this person at or following an auction in 2006 causing the board additional reservation about entering into a costly business agreement with this individual.
Mr. Woosnam has also offered the coaster to other groups, on a forum on the Sandusky Register newspaper where he wrote on July 1, 2008: "As the buyer …of this coaster, time for action is NOW. If you want to talk about it, go ahead. If you want to save it, money is all it takes. There is a deal available for anyone who wants to do something about it, not just talk about it. Contact me for details."
Presently ACE is not in a position to underwrite the removal of Big Dipper, including the transportation and storage of its components, particularly on such extremely short notice. In addition ACE does not own any property nor have the funds necessary for reassembly of the coaster at a future date. ACE also needs to speak to its membership regarding moving the Big Dipper. This very short time frame prohibits ACE from exploring all the options for a major project that could conceivably be the cornerstone of its museum plans, while costing the organization in excess of $1M.
There is currently a submitted bid for the property from a Cleveland developer that would preserve the ride on site, yet no decision has been made by Cedar Fair or its real estate agent, Colliers International. That proposal was contingent on Big Dipper remaining on the property, as the developer was prepared to provide ACE, as a non-profit organization, the rights to the coaster and buildings for a possible roller coaster museum. While that possibility still exists, it will be necessary for Cedar Fair to make certain concessions with the property that it does not seem willing to make. Now ACE can only wait to see if the park’s owner is willing to work with the developer or ACE to make this opportunity a reality.