FROM STAFF REPORTS
Aurora / Bainbridge -- The end of an era has come full circle with the Aug. 19 announcement that Wildwater Kingdom water park will close for good after the Labor Day weekend.
From its start as a picnic grounds in 1888 to more than 100 years as an amusement park, plus nearly 40 years as a marine park, and the last 11 years as a water park, Geauga Lake has attracted millions of visitors.
But on Aug. 19, owner Cedar Fair announced two more weekends are all that's left for area residents to enjoy the 17-acre water park. Sept. 5 is its last day of operation.
"Cedar Fair has been working cooperatively with both Bainbridge Township and the city of Aurora to redevelop the entire property into what will best benefit the surrounding communities," Cedar Fair's announcement said.
"After examining its long-range plans, Cedar Fair has determined that the time is right to begin this transition, and will continue to work together with community leadership in the positive future development of the property.
"We would like to thank the residents of Northeast Ohio for supporting Wildwater Kingdom each summer."
Cedar Fair did not respond to a phone call from the Advocate, requesting additional information.
Aurora Mayor Ann Womer Benjamin said she was "not surprised" by the announcement.
"I've been kind of watching Wildwater Kingdom for a couple years and also working with Cedar Fair on the entire Geauga Lake property," she said. "I think it was really an economic decision for the owner."
City Council member Jim Vaca also said he's "not surprised" by the announcement.
"I expected this because they did it once before," he said, referring to the closure of Geauga Lake Park. "They just dropped a bomb at the end of the season. It's unfortunate they put their bottom line before their customer base."
Providing access to Geauga Lake on the Wildwater Kingdom side may help Cedar Fair's marketing efforts for the more than 550-acre property, according to Womer-Benjamin.
"This potentially gives more access to the lake, which I think is very appealing," she said. "I'd like to see some public access to the lake through a trail or boardwalk, which is included in our design standards."
The company is paying a consultant to work in conjunction with Bainbridge and Aurora to develop a master plan for development of the total acreage.
"We have pretty much seen eye-to-eye with Bainbridge through all of the process," she said. "I think Cedar Fair is interested in having a collective vision put on paper, so it has a better idea how to market the property."
Womer Benjamin said there has been interest from residential developers and a movie studio.