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New Carowinds ride to be 70 feet taller than Intimidator

A closed-session transcript reveals new details about the $922,000 incentive deal

By Steve Harrison
sharrison@charlotteobserver.com

Cedar Fair Entertainment, the parent company of Carowinds, plans to build a 300-foot-tall roller coaster – 70 feet taller than the park’s biggest attraction, the Intimidator – according to a closed-session transcript the Charlotte City Council released Wednesday.

The council and Mecklenburg County commissioners voted this week to give Cedar Fair $922,000 in incentives through rebates on property taxes over three years.

The incentives drew some criticism from council members, who said the projected number of new jobs from the park’s $43.5 million expansion would be too small. Carowinds expects to create 15 full-time jobs with an average salary of $43,000 and 270 seasonal jobs that would pay as much as $8.25 an hour.

Some also questioned whether Cedar Fair would expand with or without the incentives.

The closed-session discussion, held in June, gives additional insight into Cedar Fair’s plans and the city’s deliberations:

• At a news conference in August at the Charlotte Chamber announcing the expansion, Cedar Fair was vague about its plans, saying only that it would build new rides, improve restaurants and make other infrastructure improvements.

The city economic development office had given council members more details about plans for the park in June.

The new 300-foot roller coaster would cost $30 million. In addition, the park would spend $2.5 million on a new water slide, $7 million on a new food complex and $4 million on ticket booth and parking lot improvements, according to Peter Zeiler of the city.

• In the June closed session, only two of 11 council members voted against the project – Democrats Patsy Kinsey and Michael Barnes.

Barnes voted against the deal again Monday, but Kinsey has since been elevated to mayor. She did not veto the incentives Monday.

Her replacement, Democrat Billy Maddalon, voted no Monday, as did Democrats Claire Fallon and Patrick Cannon. Fallon and Cannon voted for the incentives in closed session.

“I just have a sense that when something like this comes through the Chamber or somebody else, I feel pressured for one thing, but secondly I just don’t know if the Chamber says, ‘Oh, well, you can go to the city and county to get some money,’ ” Kinsey said during the closed session.

• Carowinds also told the city that half of the 270 seasonal jobs likely would be filled by North Carolina residents and half by South Carolina residents.

The city estimates the expansion would generate an additional 20,000 hotel room nights, about 0.4 percent of the total Mecklenburg hotel market. The city doesn’t expect that to be large enough to drive any new hotel development. Carowinds told the city that about two-thirds of its current hotel stays are in North Carolina.

• When the city’s incentive, called a Business Investment Grant, expires after three years, the city expects the Carowinds additions to generate an additional $110,000 a year in new city property taxes.

• The city said in June that Sandusky, Ohio-based Cedar Fair was deciding whether to expand Carowinds or its King’s Dominion park in Virginia. Some council members were skeptical, saying they believed expansions were likely at both parks.

But city staff didn’t discuss in detail the park’s announcement in 2011 that it had bought 61 acres of vacant land next to Carowinds. That purchase suggests that a Carowinds expansion was a priority for Cedar Fair.

Harrison: 704-358-5160
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