If the 49ers couldn’t celebrate at the ‘Stick yesterday, at least they made a huge step towards celebrating every week in Santa Clara. According to the Merc’s Lisa Fernandez, a real estate firm partnering with a 49ers-controlled entity will buy Great America (the theme park assets not including the land) for $70 million. JMA Ventures, the lead in this purchase, is a 25-year old company backed by major private equity firms (Carlyle Group, Lehman, Morgan Stanley). They also own several properties throughout Northern California, from Tahoe ski resorts to SF restaurants. As for Cedar Fair, the squeaky wheel throughout all of this? They get cash to pay down debt.
This is a much better move than the 49ers buying the theme park outright, since they don’t have the expertise to do anything like operating a theme park. JMA Ventures would seem a more ideal partner, and at least at the outset they don’t appear to be interested in changing anything. Great America is on a weekends-only operating schedule until the end of October, when it closes to the public for the season. That should give JMA and the 49ers plenty of opportunity to take a look around and see what improvements could be made.
Could Great America close in the long run? I doubt it, since JMA is sinking $70 million into what is essentially a bunch of rides and games. Hopefully, they and the Niners can start working the channels with the NFL to integrate some sort of football theme into the park. That could go a long way towards making the Santa Clara stadium a much more cohesive experience for future Super Bowls, even if the stadium won’t have the retractable roof the league covets so much. Unfortunately, there isn’t much room to expand there as previous owners added water park features to Great America – features that won’t be useful in January/February.
Initially, I have a good feeling that JMA, a company geared around entertainment, will keep a local institution going while making it play nice with the 49ers. There’s that chance of integration with the stadium. If the two can enhance job opportunities in the area (even if they are low paying jobs, many of my immigrant relatives work there) it’s a win-win.