Gilroy Gardens Drops Management Company, Will Manage Itself

Gilroy Gardens’ nonprofit organization is now fully managing the theme park for the first time in nearly 20 years.

The management contract between Gilroy Gardens and Ohio-based Cedar Fair Entertainment Company expired at the end of 2021, park officials confirmed.

Cedar Fair made headlines on June 27 when it announced it sold the land its California’s Great America theme park sits on and will close the Santa Clara attraction within 11 years.

Michael Fulcher, Gilroy Gardens’ marketing and operations director, said the park is now completely managed by the nonprofit organization that oversees the park on behalf of the City of Gilroy, which owns the land.

“The contract expiration has no effect on the guest experience and what the park offers its members,” he said.

Cedar Fair spokesperson Gary Rhodes confirmed the contract’s expiration as well. He added that Gold Pass holders of Great America will continue to receive free admission at Gilroy Gardens.

Neither Fulcher nor Rhodes commented on why both sides let the contract expire.

In 2003, the Gilroy theme park, then known as Bonfante Gardens, entered into a management agreement with Paramount Parks, which owned Great America. The agreement allowed the fledgling theme park to capitalize on season pass and advertising campaigns with the well-established Santa Clara park.

A Morgan Hill Times article from 2003 reported that the partnership helped double attendance at the Gardens and help it turn a profit for the first time, as it was largely in the red during its first two years in existence and saddled with debt.

In 2006, Cedar Fair purchased Paramount Parks and took over the management contract, which it continued to maintain through 2021.

According to the 2019 Form 990 Gilroy Gardens filed with the Internal Revenue Service, the most recent document available, the nonprofit paid Cedar Fair $500,000 that year for management services, a number that has remained more or less the same in recent years.

The purpose of the agreement is “to overlay industry best practices and standards on the managed property as well as providing an increase in marketing exposure,” as Gilroy Gardens describes it on the form.

In 2019, the park reported pre-pandemic revenue of $14,246,630, with $13,430,595 in expenses.

Cedar Fair’s influence on the park can still be seen in various areas. Gilroy Gardens continues to offer front-of-the-line passes known as “Fast Lane,” a Cedar Fair-branded term, while its website is themed similarly to other parks in the company’s portfolio.

Gilroy city officials are exploring the possibility of developing Gilroy Gardens and the surrounding Hecker Pass property into a recreational destination.

In early 2021, the city received proposals from two companies looking to offer a variety of new attractions on the property.

However, under state law, the city was required to declare the land as surplus and offer it to affordable housing developers. No developers stepped forward during a 60-day period.The city recently received clearance from the state and can once again proceed with its plans, Mayor Marie Blankley reported in her State of the City address earlier this year.

Erik Chalhoub is editor of the Gilroy Dispatch.

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