Summer is on the way, and it will soon be peak season for theme parks and water slides. Some may be looking to go beyond buying a season pass and investing in these fun spots itself.
The recession has been rough on theme parks. Travel is down, and so are receipts at the gate. Rising gas prices could have a less-than-thrilling impact on those smaller, rural family-run parks that lie outside most tourist destinations -- the gator worlds and Christmas-themed petting zoos of the world.
If you want to buy one, do some research. Seek out local newspapers online, refining your search to uncover stories about struggling parks, foreclosures or decisions to sell.Keep your focus as local as possible so you understand the market potential. You'll undoubtedly come across online sites and listings looking to sell equity shares in Russian and Eastern European amusement park startups and franchises. Even if they are legitimate, the price is high and prospects risky. Don't assume only big parks are out there. The marketplace includes smaller, indoor locations in malls and at strip malls. They may be little more than arcades, but the right one could prove a potential opportunity. To find opportunities, keep up with the trade publications and such professional organizations as the International Association of Amusement Parks. Among the listings we came across in our search was an amusement park for sale in Nebraska. Established in 1980, it includes go karts, water slides and miniature golf. Total assets include $24,000 of inventory, $821,000 of equipment, vehicles, fixtures and furnishings, and buildings and land valued at $500,000. The asking price is $1.1 million. We also found a 15-acre dinosaur theme park in Michigan that once featured a train ride, fake volcano and 35-foot waterfall. Included in the $548,000 asking price: an arcade, gift shop and 100 fiberglass dinosaurs. On a far larger scale, earlier this month it was reported that NBC Universal -- or more accurately Comcast (CMCSK) -- may need to shell out upward of $1.6 billion to buy the 50% stake in Universal Studios Florida theme parks private investment firm Blackstone Group (BX) is seeking to sell by a June deadline. Failing to do so would open the door for private equity investors.