Amusement park company has option to buy Schlitterbahn in Kansas City, Kansas

Cedar Fair Entertainment Company, an Ohio-based operator of amusement parks including World’s of Fun in Kansas City, has an option to buy the dormant Schlitterbahn water park in Wyandotte County.

Cedar Fair announced in a new release Thursday morning that it had a $6 million option to buy 40 acres of Schlitterbahn-owned property in Kansas City, Kansas.

The purchase option is part of a larger acquisition by Cedar Fair of Schlitterbahn’s Texas water parks in New Braunfels and Galveston. Cedar Fair is buying those water parks for $261 million in cash. The deal, which is subject to regulatory review, is expected to close soon.

“For the past 50 years, the Schlitterbahn family has focused all its resources, talent, and energy into building Schlitterbahn Waterparks and Resorts into an iconic Texas brand,” Schlitterbahn said in a statement. “It is now time for the company to enter a new and brighter stage of development and growth.”

Schlitterbahn’s water park in South Padre will continue to be owned by a member of the Henry family that founded the enterprise and the park will be re-branded, the company said. Schlitterbahn’s statement made no mention of Kansas City.

EPR Properties, the Kansas City-based real estate investment trust that had a mortgage with Schlitterbahn, signaled earlier this year that the Texas-based water park company had identified a third party that was going to pay off the outstanding $190 million note. The mortgage’s collateral included Schlitterbahn’s Texas water parks.

The Star asked Cedar Fair in May about whether it was interested in acquiring Schlitterbahn and a spokeswoman said she was not aware of any deal at the time.

If Cedar Fair exercises its option to buy the Kansas City, Kansas, water park, it would put an end to Schlitterbahn’s presence in the region. The company’s brand here has been marred since the Aug. 7, 2016 death of a 10-year-old boy on the Verruckt water slide.

Caleb Schwab’s death triggered an avalanche of turmoil and bad publicity for Schlitterbahn in Kansas City. The company was investigated and top officials were eventually charged with serious crimes. A grand jury indictment charged Schlitterbahn co-owner Jeff Henry, Verruckt designer John Schooley and others with negligently designing the 17-story thrill ride, not maintaining it and attempting to interfere with an investigation.

Two defendants were acquitted at trial and charges against the rest were dropped.

The company and others involved in designing Verruckt also paid a nearly $20 million settlement to the Schwab family, a record in the Kansas City area in a case involving the wrongful death of a child.

Caleb’s father Scott Schwab is the Kansas Secretary of State. At the time of his son’s death he was a state representative from Olathe, and was visiting the park on a day when lawmakers were invited to the water park free of admission.

While Schlitterbahn managed to re-open within days of Schwab’s death, it would later become clear that the incident had an effect on the company.

EPR Properties warned investors that Schlitterbahn may not be able to pay its mortgage. State regulators last year went to the park and found several of its rides did not pass inspection.

And earlier this year, EPR Properties revealed that it had to advance money to Schlitterbahn on its mortgage to shore up cash flow issues and legal fees. At the same time, Schlitterbahn had not been selling tickets in Kansas City for its upcoming season, a sign that a sale was in the works.

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Steve Vockrodt is an award-winning investigative journalist who has reported in Kansas City since 2005. Areas of reporting interest include business, politics, justice issues and breaking news investigations. Vockrodt grew up in Denver and studied journalism at the University of Kansas.