Hotels will be affected by Geauga Lake closure

Steven Bushong

It is widely believed the loss of Sea World six years ago was the final blow for Geauga Lake. The park’s attendance slipped, and its tenure as a Geauga County landmark ended Sept. 21 when its owner, Cedar Fair Entertainment, announced its closure.

Only the 30-acre water park, Geauga Lake’s Wildwater Kingdom, remains.

The loss of Aurora’s 119-year-old attraction is a letdown for historians and coaster enthusiasts alike, but its closing may not necessarily mean a dismal future for local businesses that once relied on the park for revenue.

Teresa’s Pizza owner Chip Varvo, whose shop is within walking distance of the park’s entrance, said he’s been dealing with its decreasing attendance for years. He said development has kept his clientele steady.

According to officials, likely to be affected most by the park’s closure will be the hotel industry, not restaurants or shops. Once filled with people visiting the two-day destination, the hotels’ summer business boom began to fizzle out when Sea World left.

In Streetsboro, 10 hotels are clustered near Interstate Highway 80, many of them built around the year 2000. Soon thereafter, the announcement of Sea World’s departure came. The hotels immediately realized their customer traffic would be cut, and they needed to find new business, said Cindy Peterson, general manager at the Wingate Inn.

In years since, Streetsboro hotels have turned their attention to corporate traffic, to customers such as Chris Gullia, a district manager at Yellow Book USA who rented rooms at the Wingate Inn for conferences with his sales team.

Also important to the hotel industry is Kent State business. Peterson said if a hotel can attract a freshman student’s parents during their first visit to the area, they could have them as a repeat customer for years to come.

This new marketing direction toward the business community and Kent State is well underway, yet Peterson said the hotels are struggling, as they have been for years.

“Will them taking the park out affect us? I think it will, but not as badly as everyone thinks it will,” Peterson said.

Since their construction, not one hotel in Streetsboro has closed, Peterson said. And she doesn’t foresee any closings in the near future either.

In addition to a new marketing focus, the hotels have an alliance with the Streetsboro Convention and Visitors Bureau. The bureau has recently been putting more money into promoting what it says is Streetsboro’s convenient location between Cleveland and Akron.

The bureau’s board, which includes representatives from two local hotels, has discussed what to do now that the amusement park is closed. The decision made was for more of the same, bureau director Lisa Wild said.

“For the past several years, we haven’t been focusing solely on the amusement park, we’ve been focusing on Northeast Ohio’s best vacation value,” Wild said. “You’re not in a downtown area, but you can still go to all these areas in a short drive.”

The bureau is discussing its 2008 travel brochure, and the phrase “hub and spokes,” like the wheel of a car, keeps coming up, Wild said. She said Streetsboro is the “hub” between the “spokes,” Cleveland and Akron.

The bureau has a close, cyclical relationship with Streetsboro hotels.

The bureau is a non-profit agency funded solely by the bed tax, a tax people are charged when they rent one of Streetsboro’s 700 hotel rooms.

From January to August this year, the bureau has received $71,000 in funds from the tax, Streetsboro finance director Tanya Boyer said. With the money, the bureau brings more business to the area and in turn, makes more money.

The city also benefits from the bed tax, receiving $217,000 through August this year. Boyer said a loss of business to the hotels could affect the city, but no one has sat down to see exactly what the impact would be.

Questions remain for the bureau, too.

“What will Cedar Fair do with the land?” asked Wild.

At a press conference Sept. 24, Cedar Fair Entertainment spokesman Robin Innes said the company has no plans for the land.

Contact assistant news editor Steven Bushong

at [email protected].