Man raising funds to rebuild closed amusement park

AURORA (AP) — He readily admits the idea is a bit far-fetched.

But after listening for years to people grousing about the loss of Geauga Lake Park, Brian Roote decided it was time to dream big and try to save the park from extinction.

So with little fanfare about a week ago, the Independence man put together a GoFundMe campaign to attempt to raise $20 million to buy what’s left of the amusement park that straddles the Geauga and Portage County line from Cedar Point’s parent company Cedar Fair.

Cedar Fair has already sold off portions of the old amusement park and the closed water park across the lake for development of everything from retail stores to a car dealership.

The company did not return a request for comment on Roote’s proposal.

The same is true for Bainbridge Township and Aurora officials who have said in the past that it is time to move on and look for new uses for the property that was once a popular summer destination for generations of Northeast Ohio families.

If the number to just buy the property wasn’t daunting enough, Roote, who dabbles in real estate and has no experience in the amusement park business other than enjoying visits to them, estimates he would need another $350 million for everything from ticket booths to restrooms to restaurants to games to rides.

So far, he says, the whole idea has generated a lot of chatter and trips down memory lane but not much cash.

As of Saturday afternoon, 45 people had donated just $839 to the online campaign.

Roote said he’s not surprised or disappointed that the campaign is sputtering.

He was hopeful that someone with deep pockets and an even bigger heart would come along and help save the amusement park from becoming just another ho-hum development.

He was banking on folks’ personal memories of Geauga Lake like his own when he summoned up the courage to ride his first big-kid roller coaster — the former Batman Knight Flight and later Dominator roller coaster.

This coaster had the distinction of being the world’s longest floorless coaster when it opened in 2000 in what was once considered the largest amusement park land-wise in the world when Geauga Lake was combined with the former Sea World across the lake to create a single mega park under Six Flags.

Ever since the park closed abruptly after the 2007 season, Roote said, there’s been a curiosity about the place.

This is evident by the well-published instances of urban trespassers and subsequent arrests and drone footage of the remnants left behind that have attracted hundreds of thousands of clicks on YouTube.

If he were to raise the money to buy the place, Roote said, his first step would be to remove the dangerous footers and pieces of the old rides and buildings and open the property up for visitors to explore or just take a stroll down what used to be the midway.

“We want to turn it from a wasteland into an oasis,” he said.

This would return the park back to its roots when it opened in 1887, and guests would bring picnics to just relax by the lake.

With the help of investors, he said, he would slowly build it up just like the original park did by adding places to eat and play and eventually adding nostalgic rides like a carousel, a wooden roller coaster and perhaps even bring back the old rotor that spins like crazy and the floor drops.

“I just miss the park, walking around with an ice cream cone and playing the carnival games,” he said. “I just love that everyone I talk to about this has a story. Everyone has an awesome memory of the park.”

For now, Roote said, he wants to wait to see how this all shakes out.

But he says he is already making plans to either return any money donated or just give it to a Northeast Ohio charity.

But then again, Roote said, maybe a miracle will happen and donations will pour in so the Geauga Dog will be back to greet guests at the front gate.

“Anything is possible,” he said. “The sky is the limit.”

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