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Part of Expansion Plan : Knott's Diversifies, Adds Dolphins

December 24, 1985|BRUCE HOROVITZ | Times Staff Writer

Knott's Berry Farm--the theme park where chickens and ducks still parade the grounds--has netted an unlikely addition to its menagerie.


Competitive pressure from area attractions is forcing Knott's into the yet-uncharted waters of marine life. The Buena Park attraction plans to build a 1,200-seat marine stadium next year as the fourth stage of a five-year, $25-million renovation plan. The facility, along with other 1986 improvements, will cost upwards of $2 million.

With amusement parks nationwide veering away from the costly iron and steel thrill rides, more and more are turning to less-expensive forms of entertainment ranging from marine and animal shows to singing and dancing extravaganzas.

"We can now say, 'Hey, we've got a little bit of everything,' " said Jon Pugh, Knott's director of design and planning. "You don't need to go to Sea World, because you can see it see it all here."

Knott's, the former berry farm founded 66 years ago by Walter Knott, is coming off its most successful attendance year ever, said Jim Hardiman, the park's public-relations director. Although the privately owned park does not release attendance or sales figures, attendance in 1985 has been up nearly 9% compared to last year. That increase has certainly been boosted by Disneyland's 30th-anniversary bash, which lured visitors to the area from around the world.

The marine stadium is scheduled to be completed by June. It will replace the Starlight Pavilion in Knott's' Roaring Twenties theme area. Plans have also been drawn to vastly revamp that portion of the park, including new buildings, fresh landscaping and improved lighting. Officials also plan to construct an International Bazaar--with goods from a dozen countries--in the outdoor retail center known as Knott's Market Place.

Major upgrading began at Knott's in 1983, when Camp Snoopy opened at a cost of $10 million. In 1984, the park spent an additional $5 million to vastly revamp the Market Place. Last year, $2 million was pumped into a renovation of the park's Ghost Town area, and a similar renovation is scheduled for the Roaring Twenties area in 1986.

Mexican-Theme Update

The final part of the five-year plan will be completed in 1987, when the park updates its Mexican-theme area, Fiesta Village. Park officials say that before the end of the decade, they also expect to build a new theme area at Knott's.

"Most theme parks are becoming more aggressive," said James Harmon, partner at Management Resources, a Tustin consulting firm for amusement parks. "They're broadening ways to increase attendance through entertainment."

One way that Disneyland hopes to spark new interest in 1986 is with the Michael Jackson video, "Captain Eo." The multimedia show is scheduled to premiere March 14 at a 700-seat theater now under construction in Tomorrowland. The Magic Kingdom will also extend its popular prize giveaway program into 1986. The park has handed out more than $12 million in prizes so far this year.

But Disneyland has no interest in a marine show, spokesman Al Flores said. "Keep in mind, most of our attractions are geared towards mechanical shows," he said.

7 Dolphin Shows Daily

Knott's is not the first area amusement park to set dolphins next to thrill rides. Magic Mountain in Valencia erected its Aqua Theatre six years ago. In peak season, the 1,150-seat stadium hosts seven dolphin shows daily. "It's the most successful show in the park," said Sherrie Bang, the park's public-relations manager.

"A dolphin stadium at Knott's might seem like an orange in a bowl of apples, but it still makes sense," Management Resources' Harmon said. "People go to Knott's for reasons other than riding thrill attractions. Knott's has been known for years as a park very strong in entertainment."

Besides the dolphin show, Knott's will host an ice show next summer that will feature former Olympic stars. Melodramas and variety shows are also scheduled. "The name of the game is entertainment," Pugh said.

Along that line, the park now hosts live rock entertainment in indoor and outdoor theaters. Knott's has catered to teen-agers in recent years by building two teen nightclubs and booking top rock acts into the park.

Parents and Teens Sought

But now it is children and parents--not teen-agers--who are the new focus of the park's attention. It is families who are mostly expected to attend the planned 30-minute dolphin shows, Pugh said. The dolphin pool is being constructed so that it can hold other spectacles, such as swim shows and diving competitions.

Next year's dolphin show will feature characters from the Peanuts cartoon strip. Cartoonist George Schulz has signed a multi-year contract with Knott's for use of his Peanuts characters.

Not everyone, however, is impressed with Knott's' planned dolphin show. "I think amusement attractions ought to do what they do best," said Bill Thomas, vice president of marketing at Sea World in San Diego. The Knott's dolphin show "would be like us getting into the ride business," he said.

There are numerous dolphin shows in the United States, Thomas said. "I could put one in my own backyard. But dolphins don't bring people to Sea World--it's our killer whales and a number of one-of-a-kind exhibits," he said.

Thomas said he does not think that the new Knott's exhibit will hurt Sea World's business.

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