Great escape
The Great Escape will open two weeks later in May 2011. In this file photograph, the rainy day doesn't stop roller coaster enthusiasts from coming out and enjoying opening day of Great Escape's season on Saturday, May 8, 2010.

QUEENSBURY -- The Great Escape will open two weeks later for its 2011 season, according to company officials.

The theme park plans to open on May 21, the weekend before Memorial Day. That's two weeks later than opening day this year and last, but the same as 2008 and 2007.

Great Escape President Don McCoy was out of town on Wednesday and not available for comment. Company spokeswoman Rebecca Close confirmed the schedule change and said the park's opening dates vary each year, but generally fall in May.

"The decision to open for the 2011 season on May 21 eliminates the risk of spring weather issues," Close said via e-mail. "We have historically opened between the first weekend of May and Memorial Day. Opening May 21 still gives guests two full weekends before the traditional beginning of summer."

The decision was made at the park level, not the corporate level; no further information was provided about the reasons for the earlier start.

The change is one of many for Great Escape and parent company Six Flags Entertainment Corp. this year.

In the spring, Great Escape announced it would not bring back the Holiday in the Park event, which debuted in November and December of 2009 and made for the park's longest season on record.

In addition, Six Flags exited Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection after shedding $1.7 billion in debt and preferred equity obligations, and named new chief executive and chief financial officers.

CEO James Reid-Anderson took over in August, immediately shifting the company's focus.

Reid-Anderson has stressed the need for organic revenue growth, as opposed to attendance growth through discounting and ticket promotions. He also said the company needs to focus more on regional theme parks and less on global entertainment. Six Flags hopes to boost its theme parks with new rides and attractions, and by making smarter capital investments.

In an August investor conference call, CFO Alexander Weber Jr. cited a nighttime light parade at five U.S. locations called "Glow in the Park" as an example of inefficient spending; he noted the event takes place after guests have left and extends operating hours.

"We see this is as just one small example where we can improve the efficiency and effectiveness by deploying our capital differently," Weber said.

Locally, the reaction to a later Great Escape start was mixed.

"I'm sure they've done their due diligence and determined it's not worth it to open early," said Luisa Craige-Sherman, executive director of the Lake George Chamber of Commerce.

Craige-Sherman was unaware of any seasonal businesses that synch their opening dates with the theme park. She said the start of the season is a moving target in Lake George. The date hinges on the weather, ranging from May 1 to Memorial Day weekend for many businesses, she said.

"They are pretty flexible on that, and it does depend on Mother Nature," she said.

At the Country Inn & Suites next to the park, General Manager Dave Menter said he suspects the later start will affect hotel stays during those two weeks.

"Whenever they're open, it impacts us," Menter said.

Visitors don't usually book this far in advance, however, so any effect won't be noticeable until much closer to spring, he added.

Across the street, Martha's Dandee Creme owner Dennis Lafontaine wasn't too concerned about the change when contacted by The Post-Star on Wednesday. He said his popular ice cream attraction opens about April 1 and relies mostly on locals during the shoulder season.

Lafontaine said Great Escape brings a lot of people to the area during those initial weekends of the season, which drives traffic to his business. But the lines that form in the spring are mostly loyal residents.

"Our spring business is driven mainly by the locals," he said. "After the winter, the locals really come back in full force."


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