Fantasy Island becomes a fantasy
Local amusement park closes, students share memories
Fantasy Island, an amusement park in Grand Island, permanently closed on Wednesday and students are reflecting on the childhood summers they spent there.
Apex Parks Group, the California-based company that owns the park, officially shut it down and began dismantling the rides and attractions after the announcement. Apex has not addressed whether it will refund season ticket holders their $69.99 for the coming 2020 summer season. Students say they will miss the amusement park, which opened in 1961, but so will the town of Grand Island, which depended on the amusement park for seasonal employment and tax revenue.
Fantasy Island quickly became a fan-favorite among Buffalo rollercoaster and waterpark enthusiasts after its introduction in the ‘60s. But the park’s performances are what really made students go to Fantasy Island.
Joseph Carl Tripi III, a sophomore architecture major, has fond childhood memories of the park, especially Fantasy Island’s “Wild West Shootouts” with performances featuring guns with blanks and a climactic fall at the end, where a cowboy actor would fall off a roof onto a mattress.
“My favorite thing to do was to watch the Wild West Shootouts,” Tripi said. “I was always mesmerized with how a person could fall off a roof like that. There was nothing like it.”
While the park has been popular among locals, it faced challenges in the past, including rapid changes in ownership. In 1982, Fantasy Island faced its first bankruptcy. Charles Wood, then-owner of Lake George’s Storytown USA theme park, purchased the park then sold it in 1989, only to buy it back in 1992. Martin DiPietro bought the park from Wood in 1994 and held onto it until he sold it to Apex in 2016.
Apex has not addressed whether it will look for a new buyer, but it seems unlikely as the company is dismantling Fantasy Island and selling it piece by piece. Among the rides for sale is the main attraction and most iconic piece of the park, the Silver Comet.
Michael Lesniak, a sophomore political science major, said it is “odd” that Fantasy Island closed down after so many years.
“Fantasy Island was a key place in the childhood of many Western New Yorkers. Rides such as the Mouse Trap and the Silver Comet created many happy memories for so many of the citizens of Erie and Niagara Counties,” said Lesniak. “It is odd to think that an integral part of my childhood is no longer open; furthermore removing the opportunity for children to experience that joy in the future.”
Grand Island Town Supervisor John Whitney said he was disappointed in the park’s closing in a public statement.
“It’s a big impact on us. I would like to do whatever we could do to help the situation,” Whitney said.
The park generated roughly $120,000 in taxes, a quarter of which went to the town. The park also employed full-time maintenance personnel and some residents depended on it for seasonal employment.
Assemblyman Sean Ryan has joined the effort to keep Fantasy Island open in an effort to quell the blow to Grand Island’s economy.
“We must focus on how to best incorporate the Fantasy Island site into the ongoing revitalization of Western New York,” Ryan said in a statement. “I stand ready to provide any assistance necessary as this process unfolds.”
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