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Will Fantasy Island reopen next year? Not so fast.

Buffalo News - 7/7/2020

As if 2020 hasn't been crazy enough already, get this: The man who played Black Bart in Fantasy Island's Wild West shootout show has gotten the gang back together in hopes of reviving the Grand Island amusement park.

But just as the group's Empire Adventures started to lay out its plans and look for investors, it disappeared on Thursday, raising questions about the viability of the project.

In June, it announced it was working to reopen Fantasy Island by the 2021 season and looking for millions of dollars in financial backing. But by early Thursday afternoon, Empire Adventures' website and official Facebook page had been removed. Emails and Facebook messages to Bill Baldwin, listed as the company's CEO, marketing director Samuel Adornetto Jr. and an email to a public relations representative were not returned.

Still, Grand Island Councilman Michael Madigan said he believes Empire Adventures is "the real deal."

Madigan said the group had taken several credible steps toward getting the park up and running, but declined to share what they were. He said the group told him it has an inventory of amusement park rides, and that he had seen pictures of them on Facebook, but that he wasn't sure about the details.

"It seems very real and the fact that they're going public with some of the information seems very encouraging," Madigan said. "The park would leave a hole in the center of our town. With Covid and everything else, it would be exciting news to have this park."

Grand Island Supervisor John Whitney was more tempered.

He had taken a tour of the park with the company's representatives, but didn't have much information about them, he said.

"I don't know who these people are or what their financial status is," Whitney said.

Still, he would be thrilled if the group could make a go of it. The town's surrounding businesses and restaurants would benefit, and it would save a landmark that has been beloved on Grand Island for nearly 60 years.

"I'm very hopeful that they are able to breathe some life back into this" Whitney said. "It has been a part of Grand Island for so long. People are sad to see it go."

The group incorporated only recently. Samuel Adornetto, Jr., who was listed as the company's marketing director, is a student at Niagara University, according to a resume on LinkedIn. He joined Fantasy Island as a ride operator in 2015, and was an administrative intern with Apex Parks when it closed in February. The resume also identifies Adornetto as the administrator of the "Friends of Fantasy Island" Facebook Page.

"Many people don't realize that a lot of these rides are standard factory models. I know they won't be operating this year, but the The Erie County Fair actually has a Doggy Dog coaster, just themed to a caterpillar," Adornetto wrote in a post to the group. "The Dragon Coaster model is everywhere, and the fair also has a Crazy Mouse, but it was built by a different manufacturer."

The company recently asked for volunteers on its Facebook page to "perform beautification efforts to the property," and urged the park's fans to contact politicians, investors and business people and ask them to partner with Empire Adventures.

It also was unclear what type of financial backing Empire Adventures has. The group's website, before it was taken down, sought investors and raised the possibility of sponsorship opportunities for rides and attractions.

Fantasy Island will need a lot of work if Empire Adventures sticks to its 2021 timetable. Most of the park's rides have been sold off, and Apex did not winterize the park before shutting it down.

The track for the park's iconic Silver Comet roller coaster is still at the park, but the cars are gone. The ferris wheel, which stands sentinel over the Interstate 190, is still intact. The water park remains, as does the park's train ride, but pretty much everything else is gone, Whitney said.

In a Facebook post, the group said it would bring in classic amusements similar to the ones that had been dismantled and sold from Fantasy Island by Apex Parks, along with new rides that would be the first of their kind in the Western New York market.

The park is owned by Arizona-based real estate investment trust STORE Capital, which has retained Alliance Property Services to clean up and close the property, which was left in disarray by Apex Parks.

Apex did not properly terminate electricity to the rides before shutting them down, so Alliance hired Brady Electric to remedy the hazard. Alliance removed food and perishables Apex left in coolers, and secured the park's coolers and buildings. Alliance is also in the process of pumping out the park's pools, covering its open pits and otherwise securing and stabilizing the park.

Before Empire's website disappeared, the group had outlined a three-phase plan to get the park up and running. The first phase was to clean up "the mess left by previous management," and bring in new rides, followed by reopening in 2021 with popular policies reinstated, including free parking and the ability for families to bring in coolers with food. Phase three, for 2022 and beyond, was to continue bringing new rides and "transforming the park into a world-class regional attraction."

The future of theme parks in general is unclear, due to the Covid-19 pandemic. Theme parks such as Darien Lake, which remain closed due to the state's shutdown orders, depend on May and June for a significant portion of their profits. When parks do reopen, they'll likely reopen well under their maximum capacity to make social distancing possible in lines that typically cram dozens of people together as they wait for rides. In addition to medical screening and sanitation measures, Shanghai Disneyland reopened in May at 30% occupancy.

Still, the appetite from thrill seekers is still there: Tickets to Shanghai Disneyland's reopening sold out in minutes. And it's clear Grand Island is passionate about Fantasy Island.

"There's got to be a way to save what's left of the park," fan Joshua Derrick wrote on Facebook. "I miss this awesome park lots."

News Business Reporter


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