California’s Great America amusement park is shutting down. The current owner, Cedar Fair, sold the 112-acre site for $310 million US to Prologis, a real estate developer. The park will continue to operate for the next six to 11 years. I’m sad that Great America will be shutting down since it was a part of my childhood and young adulthood. I’m also excited by what this prime piece of Silicon Valley real estate will become in the future.
Marriot Great America (1976-1992)
Marriot Hotels opened Great America on a former orchard in Santa Clara, CA, in 1976. That was the same year Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs formed Apple Computers and sold the Apple I computer as a kit. The park’s mascots were Warner Brothers characters like Bugs Bunny and Yosemite Sam.
This was my favorite version of the park.
My first visit was a third- or fourth-grade field trip after the park opened in 1976. We went on all the kiddie rides because we were too young to go on the roller coasters.
My second visit was an eighth-grade field trip in 1984. The only way to see an IMAX movie back then was at the Pictorium. A movie theater with a thousand seats and a ten-story silver screen.
The short IMAX movie I saw was the STS-8 Space Shuttle Challenger nighttime launch in 1983. Once the engines lit, the building rumbled as the shuttle roared into space.
Marriot sold the land underneath the park to Santa Clara County for $94 million US in 1985.
Paramount Great America
Paramount Parks operated Great America from 1992 to 2006. The park’s mascots were Hanna-Barbera characters like Scooby-Doo and Yogi Bear. Nickelodeon and Star Trek were featured throughout the park.
I was hanging out at the San Jose State University student union when a pair of Klingons showed up outside. They were seven-feet tall, in full makeup and uniform, and six-inch tall platform boots. One of them picked up the woman who was handing out fliers in his arms and sang a Klingon love song.
The singing was that bad.
My last visit to Great America was a summer company picnic in 2004. I went to the Action Theater that played a short science fiction movie. The theater had seats that tilted in any direction in response to the movie. That was a wild movie watching experience.
Viacom, which owned Paramount Parks, sold that unit to Cedar Fair for $1.6 billion US in 2006.
California’s Great America
Cedar Fair operated the park from 2006 to now. They renamed the park to California’s Great America. The park’s mascots are Peanut characters like Charlie Brown and Snoopy.
I haven’t been to this version of the park.
This was the go-to spot when I was a kid and a young adult. No company I worked for in the last 18 years had a company picnic at the park. With the park closing in the next 11 years, I’ll make a farewell visit soon.
Santa Clara County sold the land underneath the park to Cedar Fair for $150 million US in 2019.
The Future of Great America
Cedar Fair in turn sold the land underneath the park to Prologis for $310 million US this year. That’s a 106% return on investment in only three years. A better return than the 63% return that the county made after 34 years.
If you watched my Fry’s Electronics videos, Prologis is a familiar name. They expressed an interest in but didn’t follow up with proposals for the North San Jose headquarters. Bay West Development is redeveloping that location into a six-building campus.
Prologis expressed an interest but didn’t follow up with proposals for the North San Jose headquarters.
The leaseback to Cedar Fair is good for six years with an option to renew for another five years. Prologis can close the park sooner by providing a two-year notification at any time. The park could close in two, six, or 11 years from now.
Will the park close sooner or later? More likely later.
Google Village on 80 acres west of downtown San Jose will be the biggest redevelopment for the next ten years.
- 7.3 million square feet of office space
- 4,000 residential units
- 500,000 square feet of retail space
- 300 hotel rooms
- 15 acres of open space
Great America is 112 acres and will be 30% bigger than the Google Village.
Prologis can wait six to 11 years to break ground for construction. It’s going to take that long for architectural designs, environmental studies, and permits to get done.
I do hope that Prologis will keep the carousel and the fountain as the center piece for a public park. While the amusement park will be shutting down, Great America park doesn’t have to.