welcome to the InPark Magazine media hub & IPM editors' blog - please stay, browse, share & sign up for a free subscription

27 May 2011

CHEETAH HUNT INTERVIEW 2 of 3: Jim Dean, Park President

Cheetah Hunt Busch Gardens Tampa Bay is an innovative new coaster ride that celebrates the spirit of the cheetah. It opened May 27 and InPark editor/publisher Martin Palicki was there to try out the ride and conduct interviews. Here, Martin talks to Jim Dean, Park President.

More Cheetah Hunt coverage from IPM Digital Edition:

WHAT ARE YOUR CRITERIA FOR GREENLIGHTING A PROJECT SUCH AS CHEETAH HUNT?
We really evaluate where we think the gaps are in our product, whether it be a ride, show, or animal habitat. One of the things we have been doing in our company, and Manta in Orlando is an example of that, is we combine animal habitats with thrill rides. We know a little bit about thrill rides (we sort of cornered the market with some of our roller coasters) and we wanted to do the same thing and include an animal habitat with a world class coaster.  The cheetah is such a fascinating animal and we said it is the perfect animal to pair with a roller coaster, because it is about acceleration…that burst of speed…and that is what this roller coaster is about.

DO YOU SEE MORE OF THAT PAIRING?
Absolutely. It is a point of differentiation for us. We are one of the largest organizations that cares for animals in North America so we want to make sure we leverage our animal expertise and we want to deliver thrills so it’s perfect.

WHAT IS YOUR STRATEGY FOR SUCCESS DURING THIS PERIOD OF ECONOMIC RECOVERY?
New products are important in our business so you have to keep the park new and add excitement and be listening to our guests and what they think we need to add to the park. That was really our criteria: what do we need to add to this park to make it better and stay relevant with our guests? We wanted a thrill ride, one that the whole family could ride. We wanted to satisfy the extreme coaster lovers but also let the family ride it and highlight our animal collection. It’s a new realm for us and it’s a huge footprint, over 13 acres for this construction.

We have the unique distinction of being between two of the best tourist destinations: Orlando, and some of the best beaches in the world in St. Pete. And we are right in the middle of them. So we have the benefit of a large local base in the [Tampa] area, but we also attract a lot of tourists from Orlando and the beaches so it’s a really good formula for us.

WITH ALL THE CORPORATE CHANGES OVER THE PAST FEW YEARS HOW LOCALIZED IS CONTROL OF THE PARK WHEN DESIGNING AND WORKING ON NEW ATTRACTIONS?
Blackstone is our owner and they are an investment owner, they are not operators. So you are talking to the operators now. When we were Anheuser-Busch we had to work within the parameters of Anheuser-Busch’s policies and guidelines. We are our own company now, if you will. Blackstone owns us wholly, but we run the company, so it’s a great spot to be for us.