Six Flags Great America back on track after pandemic lull, documents suggest

  • Six Flags Great America visitors ride Superman Ultimate Flight on opening day in 2021. Visitors packed the Gurnee amusement park despite having to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions like wearing masks.

    Six Flags Great America visitors ride Superman Ultimate Flight on opening day in 2021. Visitors packed the Gurnee amusement park despite having to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions like wearing masks. Daily Herald File Photo, 2021

  • Visitors line up to enter Six Flags Great America last year. The Gurnee park was inactive in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but now is back on track to have a normal season.

    Visitors line up to enter Six Flags Great America last year. The Gurnee park was inactive in 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic but now is back on track to have a normal season. Daily Herald File Photo, 2021

 
 
Posted2/28/2022 5:30 AM

The screams of thrill-seekers at Six Flags Great America were silenced throughout 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, but the iconic theme park is back on track after a successful 2021.

"We are proud of the strong year we had," park spokeswoman Caitlin Kepple said. "We were so excited to welcome guests back. The joy and enthusiasm was palpable from the full-time staff and the guests."

 

The theme park's policy is not to share attendance figures. The most recent figure published by an industry analyst organization was from the 2020 TEA/AECOM Theme Index report, which estimated Great America had 3,169,000 visitors in 2019, good for 20th place among American theme parks.

Based on data provided by the village of Gurnee, the park's 2021 season was close to pre-pandemic levels.

The village collects a 4% amusement tax on each admission ticket, season pass or membership sold to the park. In 2018, the village board approved a plan to cap the amusement tax revenue the village receives from the park at $2.8 million and give any collected above that back to Great America.

Under the plan, the cap increases by 2% each year of the seven-year agreement, or until the village returns a total of $4 million to Great America, whichever comes first. The village gave the park $108,243 in 2018 and $110,056 in 2019, Assistant Village Administrator Jack Linehan said.

Patrons ride Maxx Force on opening day at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee last year despite having to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions like wearing masks.
Patrons ride Maxx Force on opening day at Six Flags Great America in Gurnee last year despite having to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions like wearing masks. - Daily Herald File Photo, 2021
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Aside from an abbreviated, no-rides version of the holiday season and a shortened season at the adjacent Hurricane Harbor water park, the theme park was closed in 2020 and amusement tax revenue did not approach the cap.

But the park is on track now to get a check from the village after a bounce back in 2021, Linehan said. He said the amount of money won't be determined until April, but the underlying information is encouraging.

"The amusement tax was way up in May, June, July and August from any previous year," Linehan said, clarifying that while not all of that is from the theme park, it provides the majority of Gurnee's amusement tax revenues.

Kepple credits the rebound to the park's loyal fans and the excitement of being able to have summer fun after the doldrums of pandemic lockdowns and stringent statewide restrictions in 2020.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

"People were looking for fun, and Six Flags Great America is the place," Kepple said.

Many other medium- and large-sized theme parks had similar return seasons in 2021, industry analyst Bill Ross said.

Ross, who founded the online agency Linchpin SEO, said his conversations with officials from theme parks around the size of Great America have been positive.

"Things are going in the right direction," Ross said. "They are hiring and bringing employees back, and visitors have more comfortableness with larger crowds."

Great America has begun its seasonal hiring campaign. Last week, the park announced plans to hire 4,000 employees for the 2022 season, including ride operators, lifeguards, and food and beverage workers. And the park's minimum pay rate is increasing to $13 per hour, up from $11 an hour last year.

Kepple said the amusement park will open April 15 and the Hurricane Harbor water park is set to open May 28. She teased that there will be an announcement in the coming weeks for upcoming attractions.

Kepple also said there once again will be the shows in the park's Grand Music Hall, which remained closed in 2021.

"We're so excited for what's to come in 2022," Kepple said.

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