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Fantasy Island amusement park closes after nearly 60 years

Fantasy Island
The Fantasy Island website Wednesday afternoon included a header saying the amusement park is permanently closed.

Fantasy Island has provided its final roller coaster ride and wild west show to Western New York and Canadian families.


The longstanding Grand Island amusement park announced Wednesday afternoon it is permanently closed after nearly 60 years in business, citing financial difficulties. 

“Despite significant effort and a great deal of investment in infrastructure, rides and new themed areas, we have not seen an improvement in operating results. As such, we made the difficult decision to cease operations,” said Fantasy Island Director of Marketing Doug Mandell in a statement. “This was not a decision entered into lightly. Team members are being assisted by their supervisors and the company is working to minimize impact to those affected.”


Fantasy Island’s demise had been rumored over the last 24 hours. American Coaster Enthusiasts reported Tuesday afternoon that Apex Parks Group was selling off rides from Fantasy Island and an Indiana amusement park, Indiana Beach. 


Apex Parks, a California-based company formed in 2014, purchased Fantasy Island in 2016 for an undisclosed amount from local businessman Martin DiPietro.


Since then, many Fantasy Island guests have complained about the park’s condition, citing disrepaired rides, closed concession stands and poor customer service. More than 6,000 people signed an online petition in 2018, demanding Fantasy Island provide a refund for season passes and provide a pass for the following season.


New York State Assemblyman Sean Ryan criticized Apex Parks on Wednesday for “running (Fantasy Island) into the ground,”


“What they thought they were going to get on profit isn't happening so they're cutting Fantasy Island loose,” Ryan told WBFO. “And it shows us once more what happens when out-of-state investment capital comes into Buffalo and buys some of our assets.”


Ryan, D-Buffalo, is writing a letter to Apex Parks asking the company to not sell off Fantasy Island’s rides, and instead find a buyer who will continue operating the Fantasy Island property as an amusement park.


“Otherwise, we're all into this big problem of trying to repurpose something that was specifically built for an amusement park purpose,” he said. “So we're hoping that this investment group puts people in Western New York in front of their profits.”


Apex Parks did not immediately return a request for comment Wednesday.


Despite the complaints in recent years, Fantasy Island is remembered fondly by several generations of Western New Yorkers and Canadians. In recent decades it was considered an affordable alternative to the larger Six Flags Darien Lake amusement park in Genesee County. 


Hollywood actor Jim Carrey praised the park during an interview with Yahoo News just last week. Carrey, a Toronto native, said he used to attend Fantasy Island when vacationing in Buffalo.


There’s been plenty of reaction to Fantasy Island closing on social media. The park’s Facebook post about the closing had more than 1,300 comments as of Wednesday afternoon.


A website titled “Save Fantasy Island” has already been created. It claims local community members “behind the scenes” have a plan to save the park and asks visitors to submit their email address to be notified of updates.


The closing will have a financial impact on Grand Island and all of Western New York. The Fantasy Island property is worth $4.03 million and generates approximately $125,000 in taxes a year, according to real property tax records. Several campgrounds and motels located in the vicinity of the park will also likely be impacted. 


The Fantasy Island website stated earlier Wednesday that season passes were already sold out for 2020. It’s unclear if and how the park will reimburse those who purchased the passes. 


Mandell’s statement said guests can visit the Fantasy island website for answers to commonly asked questions. The website currently includes a contact form where guests can mark they are reaching out about season passes.

Tom Dinki joined WBFO in August 2019 to cover issues affecting older adults.