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HEARD ON THE BEAT / TOURISM

Thrill Isn't Gone--It's Just Slow--at Local Theme Parks

September 10, 1998|E. SCOTT RECKARD | E. Scott Reckard covers tourism for The Times. He can be reached at (714) 966-7407 and at scott.reckard@latimes.com

The heat wave and the fact that many schools had started before Labor Day made last week a slow one at Southern California theme parks.

"We've been in touch with all our competitors, and everybody was down," said Knott's Berry Farm spokesman Bob Ochsner. "When we hit 106 or 107, people don't come to theme parks like they usually do. They tend to stay home, stay in their motel rooms or head to the beach."

Disneyland officials said the hot summer, foul weather last winter and the Asian economic crisis contributed to a decline in visitors this year. "We did experience some softening of attendance beginning last December," spokesman Ray Gomez said. Considering the unusual factors, he said, "we're pleased overall."

Compared with last year, Knott's attendance fell 20% for the week before Labor Day, normally filled with last-minute visits before people resume their fall grind.

The heat got so bad that Southern California Edison asked Knott's to reduce power use to conserve energy. That and the early departures of heat-sapped crowds caused the Buena Park theme park to close an hour early on some nights.

However, Ochsner said, overall summer attendance was up thanks largely to Knott's new Supreme Scream, a $10-million thrill ride. It was the best summer for Knott's since 1992, and park officials now predict attendance this year overall will exceed last year, despite a poor start blamed on El Nino downpours.

Next big Knott's event: the always popular Halloween Haunt. And the next new ride--Ghost Rider, the $23-million huge wooden roller coaster looming above Beach Boulevard--could open in December.

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