The new Florida owners of Darien Lake intend to draw crowds this summer by doing things differently at the 26-year-old amusement park.
Chinese acrobats will twirl umbrellas and walk tightropes; dancers will roam the pathways; and food stands will serve local, lower-priced brands of hot dogs, whipped topping and beef on weck.
"Paying $35 for a pizza is just too much," said Curtis Parks, chief operating officer of Parc Management, the new corporate owner that closed on the sale of Darien Lake this month. "Where it made sense, we lowered prices."
New park features for the season ahead -- May 5 to Oct. 7 -- were announced at a news conference at the park's Beaver Brothers Cafe on Wednesday.
A wall screen featured DVD clips of acrobats balancing on chairs and walking tightropes as an example of the new performances that will start June 22 and continue through Labor Day. The shows, included in the $35 general admission, will take the stage at a theater where costumed characters from the "Batman" movies previously performed.
The new "Le Grande Cirque" is a version of a show of the same name based in the Palace Theatre in Myrtle Beach, S.C., said Brian Cousins, entertainment manager for the park. Some 20 to 25 performers from China and other nations will perform four times a day. They also will join other stage performers and a comedic magician in taking walks around the park to mingle with guests, he said.
New food choices took a bow Wednesday: Sahlen's hot dogs, French roast coffee by S.J. McCullagh and whipped topping and pastries from Rich Products. These Buffalo companies were joined by Red Osier of Stafford, which will serve beef on weck.
"We have been part of Genesee County for 75 years," said Rob Moore, owner of Red Osier, as he dipped beef slices into broth. He said he was glad his business, near the park, now has a licensing agreement to serve at a waterfront stand. "It's kind of like Goliath and Goliath meeting up," he said.
The changes are intended to make the park more family-friendly, said Parks, who came from Jacksonville, Fla., for Wednesday's news conference. He said he revamped park prices after receiving complaints that they were too high. New this year is a $20 ticket after 5 p.m. to the 10 p.m. close. To encourage grandparents to bring children, senior citizen admission is the same as the one for children shorter than 48 inches: $25.
Parking will drop from $10 to $7. Beer will be $4.50 instead of $6. And a pepperoni pizza by Rich Products will be $17. Last year, another national brand sold pizzas for $25 and higher.
"We feel the opportunity with this is just incredible," Parks said. The Parc firm bought Darien Lake along with six other amusement parks for $312 million from Six Flags, the brand name applied to Darien Lake for the last eight years. Parc then did a sale/leaseback with CNL Properties, a real estate investment trust, and now holds a long-term lease on the Darien Lake property.
The amusement park trade is old, said Parks, but still appealing. "It's a business you get to re-create each year because it opens and closes."