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Great Adventure: Where is the promised growth?


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#1 jdc12192

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Posted 06 April 2017 - 08:14 PM

 

 

 Great Adventure: Where is the promised growth?

Tommy's Inn at Millstone, a log cabin of a building across Route 537 from Six Flags Great Adventure, isn't really an inn, but it doesn't stop the theme park's visitors from calling the restaurant in search of a place to stay.

Owner Tommy Savastano is tempted to tell them he is willing to rent out his office.

 

"Name your price," Savastano said with a grin. "It's a slow day."

 

As Six Flags Great Adventure opens for its 44th season, elected officials think they are finally taking steps that would attract developers who want to build hotels and restaurants on Route 537, bringing ancillary businesses that are part and parcel to just about every other giant amusement park in America.

 

They have reached an agreement with the theme park and at least one other developer to help pay for a project that would deliver the water service that businesses need to operate.

 

If the project goes through, it could bring to an end a question that has been asked now for generations. Six Flags Great Adventure attracts visitors from New York and Philadelphia who have easy access from the New Jersey Turnpike, the Garden State Parkway and Interstate 195. Why is the closest brand-name hotel nine miles away?

'Coming to the table'

 

"You have plenty of people coming to the table now," said Mayor Michael Reina, who has pushed for commercial development along Route 537 since he was elected nearly a decade ago as a way to offset property taxes. "We're going to have some movement."Savastano, 55, of Jackson, has owned and operated Tommy's since he bought what was the Millstone Pub 17 years ago. He affixed the word "inn" to reflect his plan to make it more inviting to his guests. And he thought he would benefit from an influx of visitors to the park, which is a little more than a mile down Route 537.

 

But he pointed to woods across the street.

 

Route 537 divides Monmouth and Ocean counties with Millstone to the north and Jackson to the south. There's a McDonald's, Burger King, Wawa and Dunkin' Donuts adjacent to Tommy's in Millstone. There's a modest strip center featuring Farley's Homemade Ice Cream in Jackson. And all around are acres of woods, whose trees hide a theme park that boasts of breakneck thrill rides.

 

The rural landscape is an anomaly for similar tourist attractions. A check of the TripAdvisor website shows Hershey Park in Hershey, Pennsylvania, has two dozen hotels within three miles of its gates; Sesame Place in Langhorne,  Pennsylvania, has six hotels less than a mile away; Six Flags New England in Agawam, Massachusetts, has 10 hotels within five miles.

 

Six Flags Great Adventure? The theme park partners with Hotels Unlimited, a West Windsor-based hotel operator, to offer discounts to visitors. The closest, the Radisson Hotel in Freehold Township, is 15 minutes away; the farthest, the Doubletree in Tinton Falls, is a half-hour away.

 

"Six Flags Great Adventure, Safari and Hurricane Harbor provide ample entertainment for guests to span a multi-day visit," spokeswoman Kristin Siebeneicher- Fitzgerald said in an email. "Many of our guests travel from out of state and even internationally, and they would certainly benefit from hotels nearby."

 

Six Flags Great Adventure attracted about 3 million visitors in 2015, making it the 19th most-visited amusement park nationwide, according to a report by the Themed Entertainment Association, a trade group.

Grand plans

 

It wasn't supposed to be this way. Great Adventure's first president, Warner LeRoy, told the Asbury Park Press just before its opening in 1974 that a hotel was part of the park's future plans. Six Flags, the amusement park giant, acquired Great Adventure three years later. And the idea gained and lost momentum over the years.

 

Six Flags itself could be the biggest beneficiary. It owns 2,200 acres. And it received approval from the Jackson Planning Board in January 1998 to build a four-story, 200-room hotel and an 8,800-square-foot restaurant on Route 537.

 

But the plan fizzled. While Six Flags has a water treatment plant that serves the park and connects its sewer system to the Jackson Township Municipal Utilities Authority, it needed public water and sewer lines to reach Route 537. Given Jackson's sheer size of more than 100 square miles, the project could cost as much as $20 million, David Harpell, executive director of the Jackson MUA, said.

It explains the four-decade delay. "Somebody has to pay for it," said William Allmann, chairman of the Jackson MUA.

 

The MUA thinks it has bridged the gap. It signed agreements with Six Flags and Leigh Realty, which is building the Jackson 21 residential community, to help pay for the water project. It needs environmental approval from the state. But it could go out to a public bid this spring and be completed in 2019, Harpell said.

 

The MUA is continuing to negotiate with Six Flags about sewer service, Harpell said.

Growing demand

And there are hints that demand is picking up. More than five acres in Jackson adjacent to Six Flags— zoned commercial — is for sale, a sign on Route 537 says. The contact from Byron Real Estate Co. Inc. didn't return a call for comment.

 

"You have a job creator, you have a revenue enhancer not seen in this area in a long time," Mayor Reina said. "I’m excited. I’m also seeing a vision finally come to reality."

Still, one expert said the water and sewer service is only part of the equation. Developers need to be convinced that Six Flags can attract more than day-trippers. In that respect, Six Flags' location about an hour from both New York City and Philadelphia is both a blessing and a curse.

 

"It's within a commuting distance," said Peter Reinhart, director of the Kislak Real Estate Institute at Monmouth University in West Long Branch. "It's a long day, but it's doable."

 

For now, Tommy's Inn is simply operating in the shadows of Six Flags, and life isn't easy. The amusement park at times feels more like a competitor than a draw. It has expanded its menu, offering not only staples like funnel cake but also gluten-free meals. Like Atlantic City casinos, the park gives guests more incentive to stay at the property longer, spending their money there, nolt at businesses such as Tommy's.

 

Tommy's business once spiked 30 percent during the season. Now, it sees an increase of 12 percent to 15 percent, Savastano said.

 

"You need to be savvy and aggressive to make it," he said. "I’m here 17 years, and you walk in here and people say, 'Where is everybody?' I tell them, 'If I knew, I’d be there.' But we do OK."

 

"We do our parties, a great banquet room back there, a lot of parties, lunch and dinner, karaoke on Friday night," Savastano said. "So we do get a nice influx of people in the area. They all live here. But if you have Six Flags, that becomes just, for me, a bonus."

 

 

Michael L. Diamond; 732-643-4038; mdiamond@gannettnj.com

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#2 ericthewanderer

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Posted 06 April 2017 - 11:21 PM

I know Warner LeRoy wanted hotels on-site,and people online have asked about it,but I'm surprised that SF had approval for one back in 1998 and didn't follow through.Did Medusa and Hurricane Harbour take it's place?And how about Great Adv. leasing out space on-site to an outside party?



#3 FlumeOp1974

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Posted 07 April 2017 - 05:01 AM

That he did. But all or most of the resorts were to be on the otherside of the lake. Not on 537.


Edited by FlumeOp1974, 07 April 2017 - 05:02 AM.


#4 Coaster Justin

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Posted 07 April 2017 - 08:37 AM

I know Warner LeRoy wanted hotels on-site,and people online have asked about it,but I'm surprised that SF had approval for one back in 1998 and didn't follow through.Did Medusa and Hurricane Harbour take it's place?And how about Great Adv. leasing out space on-site to an outside party?

 

 

Great America also had plans for a Hotel & Convention center.



#5 Daved Thomson

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Posted 07 April 2017 - 12:17 PM

It's important to keep in mind that Warner LeRoy saw the concept of WDW as a complete resort when proposing Great Adventure in a similar vain. As such, the idea of the hotels and other commercial entities were always intended to be "on property." The idea was to develop Great Adventure more along the lines of Walt Disney World (controlling the development) versus the development of Disneyland (which saw its development beyond its property as out of control).
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#6 dougdrummer

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Posted 07 April 2017 - 02:47 PM

Tommy's Inn at Millstorne is not a very good restaurant.  Last time we were there the food and service was terrible.



#7 The Master

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Posted 08 April 2017 - 03:49 PM

Only ate their once myself, wasn't real memorable. Of course most of the time I do not travel further north than the park itself and rarely turn right upon exiting. South of the park that is almost nothing, just 3 Brothers and a Dollar General a couple of miles away. Right past the main south bound park entrance, 537 goes right down to one lane.  


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#8 Coaster Justin

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Posted 08 April 2017 - 06:01 PM

Six Flags was/is so odd. Out of all the parks they have, The only ones to build hotels were:

 

Darien Lake

Great Escape

Six Flags Ohio/Worlds Of Adventure acquired a hotel and Six Flags Holland had one prior to the Six Flags purchase

 

 

Out of 40 theme, water, and animal parks: Just those.



#9 dougdrummer

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Posted 08 April 2017 - 06:25 PM

Six Flags was/is so odd. Out of all the parks they have, The only ones to build hotels were:

 

Darien Lake

Great Escape

Six Flags Ohio/Worlds Of Adventure acquired a hotel and Six Flags Holland had one prior to the Six Flags purchase

 

 

Out of 40 theme, water, and animal parks: Just those.

I didn't know Great Escape had a hotel on site.  I know it is a tourist area (Lake George) that has several motels in the vicinity.  I visited that park many times in my youth long before it became a SF property, when it was a little place called Story Town.



#10 Viper26

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Posted 08 April 2017 - 06:41 PM

I didn't know Great Escape had a hotel on site.  I know it is a tourist area (Lake George) that has several motels in the vicinity.  I visited that park many times in my youth long before it became a SF property, when it was a little place called Story Town.

The hotel is called the Six Flags Great Escape Lodge and Indoor Water Park. It's similar to a Great Wolf Lodge park but smaller, more comparable to Co Co Keys in Mt. Laurel.

 

 

Only ate their once myself, wasn't real memorable. Of course most of the time I do not travel further north than the park itself and rarely turn right upon exiting. South of the park that is almost nothing, just 3 Brothers and a Dollar General a couple of miles away. Right past the main south bound park entrance, 537 goes right down to one lane.  

Between Mt. Holly and Jackson, Route 537 is mostly undeveloped with mostly farms and woods lining up the road. I never been on 537 north of the Jackson Premium Outlets but I believe 537 is also significantly undeveloped from the Outlets to the Garden State Parkway. The road primarily has one lane in each direction from Moorestown or Cherry Hill to Great Adventure about a 25-30 mile stretch as well as north of I-195 probably up to the Freehold Raceway Mall.



#11 dougdrummer

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Posted 08 April 2017 - 10:01 PM

The trip along 537 from Mt. Holly to Jackson used to be a really nice country drive, but over the last 20 years they have added a few more traffic lights to slow things down.  The ones at Route 68 (to military base), Route 545, Route 528 and Route 539 are the major ones that end up stopping you for several minutes.  I can still make it door to door in 30-35 minutes, barring any major traffic issues.  There probably aren't too many people in this country that can say they live that close to a major amusement park.  I actually live closer to Sesame Place, but that obviously is a kiddie's park.  I'm probably the same distance to Clementon Park, but I haven't been there in 20 years due to some shady guests attending in the past.  Not sure what it is like now, but that is a pretty small park.  The amusements at the Jersey shore are all an hour plus from me.  Next closest major parks are Dorney and Hershey, both about a two-hour drive.


Edited by dougdrummer, 08 April 2017 - 10:06 PM.


#12 The Master

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Posted 08 April 2017 - 11:05 PM

Six Flags St Louis has a really nice hotel next to it, not park owned but you can easily walk from it to the park.

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#13 dougdrummer

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Posted 09 April 2017 - 02:52 PM

Six Flags St Louis has a really nice hotel next to it, not park owned but you can easily walk from it to the park.

there goes the parking fee profits!

 

I would guess on a busy day that SFGA rakes in close to $50K in parking fees, assuming half of attendees are season pass holders - probably $3M - $5M per season.


Edited by dougdrummer, 09 April 2017 - 02:55 PM.


#14 GAcoaster

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Posted 09 April 2017 - 05:04 PM

Great Adventure's primary crowd has always come from within an hour or two drive of the park. If there was real need of a hotel at the park it would have happened years ago. I still think it could do well to add one, especially if they have an indoor water park attached to it.



#15 dougdrummer

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Posted 09 April 2017 - 05:48 PM

Great Adventure's primary crowd has always come from within an hour or two drive of the park. If there was real need of a hotel at the park it would have happened years ago. I still think it could do well to add one, especially if they have an indoor water park attached to it.

Despite their efforts during recent years to extend the season via FF and HITP, the park does sit idle for many months during the year.  Ski areas learned that it was profitable to turn their facilities into year round attractions through water parks, golf courses and mountain tobaggan rides.  GA would need to do the opposite and add an indoor water park to attract winter guests.  It's a shame they couldn't dismantle the never-opened indoor ski slope built in East Rutherford and reassemble it at GA.



#16 The Master

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Posted 16 April 2017 - 11:38 PM

Well the crowds are still growing.

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#17 Mrpq

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Posted 17 April 2017 - 06:56 AM

I really do not see the need to add a hotel.  I do not think the park is more than a 1 day visit.  I actually have left the park before closing the past few times because I run out of things to do.  Even on a busier day, I never left feeling "dang I wish I had more time"   I also do not see GA as a "destination" park.   I go because its 1.5 drive.  If I had to travel more than 2 hours I can honestly say, I would not be going out of my way to make a trip there.   Cedar point, now that's a destination park.

 

Sorry to be the negative Nancy in this post but the park needs to work on A LOT of things if they want to become a "destination"  type park. Hell, I Luna Park in Coney Island has a cleaner feel that GA and I went there once and swore I would never go back.  I don't see anyone pulling the "road trip to Walley World" type vacation for GA



#18 FlumeOp1974

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Posted 17 April 2017 - 08:49 AM

Great Adventure back in the Day was. people would travel to visit it. And when all the shows were running it would take 2 days. Im talking the Great Arena, Aquia Spectical, high Dive., Band Stand by the Lake, Americannia Music Hall etc. And in the early years there was often long waits.. Log Flume at time could reach 2 to 3 hour waits.Big wheel both ques filled. Roaring Rapids even longer. But im talking back before season passes abd Flash pass. You went in to the park and waited in line. And Magic til, Midnight. If you bought a full day ticket youd get that evening free after 5pm. .


Edited by FlumeOp1974, 17 April 2017 - 08:51 AM.


#19 Mr.Six

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Posted 17 April 2017 - 09:13 AM

We usually get at the park around 2 and leave 7ish. During the summer and peak days I believe it's a 2 day park.

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#20 Mrpq

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Posted 17 April 2017 - 10:18 AM

Great Adventure back in the Day was. people would travel to visit it. And when all the shows were running it would take 2 days. Im talking the Great Arena, Aquia Spectical, high Dive., Band Stand by the Lake, Americannia Music Hall etc. And in the early years there was often long waits.. Log Flume at time could reach 2 to 3 hour waits.Big wheel both ques filled. Roaring Rapids even longer. But im talking back before season passes abd Flash pass. You went in to the park and waited in line. And Magic til, Midnight. If you bought a full day ticket youd get that evening free after 5pm. .

if all the shows and extras where going, than yes ok I will say two day park.  But in the parks current state, not so much.  I used to love going to the Batman stunt show






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