Michael Johnson column sig

What a difference a year can make. Just ask Indiana Beach owner Gene Staples.

On Feb 18, 2020, Indiana Beach Amusement Park and Water Park was “permanently closed” by its former owners, Apex Parks Group. It cited undisclosed financial reasons.

Then in early April 2020, Staples, a Chicago businessman, came along and bought Indiana Beach — with the help of a $3 million “forgivable loan” that White County, Ind., had in reserve from monies it receives from nearby wind turbine farms.

If Staples keeps IB operational until at least Sept. 1, 2025, and meets other obligations, the “forgivable loan” essential turns into a grant that does not require payback.

Keep in mind that all of this happened during the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. But even during the health emergency, Indiana Beach operated under strict COVID-19 protocols and salvaged a business year that was once thought to be forever lost.

Fast-forward to the present day, and Indiana Beach, entering its 95th season, appears to be thriving — so much so that Staples and his company, Indiana Beach Holdings LLC, will try to revive another amusement park on the brink of extinction.

During an online auction last week, Staples purchased Clementon Lake Park & Splash World, a 52-acre lakeside facility located in Clementon, N.J.

“I love Americana and vintage amusement parks,” Staples said when asked why he bought the 114-year-old New Jersey park. “We were successful in reviving Indiana Beach in 2020. This amazing opportunity for Clementon was brought to our attention in late February, and we were lucky enough to acquire it at auction.”

The situation with Clementon, which went bankrupt and closed in 2019, is eerily similar to Indiana Beach’s predicament a year ago. Staples said the plan is to open Splash World or a “refreshed park as a whole” by Memorial Day.

“Our goal now is to use what we learned at Indiana Beach and bring that knowledge to relaunching Clementon Park,” Staples said.

He’ll be doing this in New Jersey while also expanding park operations at his flagship facility in Monticello, Ind., which also plans to open around Memorial Day weekend.

Indiana Beach’s expansion includes the addition of two new rides — Sea Warrior, purchased from Kiddieland in Melrose Park, Ill., and The Chimera (or La Quimera), purchased from La Feria Chapultepec Magico, in Mexico City, Mex.

So what looked bleak in Monticello a year ago has, so far, turned into a bona fide home run for the local and regional economy. Staples and Indiana Beach Holdings LLC have lived up to the hype and have attracted amusement park fans from all over the Midwest and beyond — including Indiana and Illinois.

Now they hope to recreate that economic magic along the Eastern Seaboard.

If it works out like it did for Monticello and White County, folks in Clementon and nearby Philadelphia have much to look forward to a year from now.

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