Since a 10-year-old boy died on one of their rides in 2016, Schlitterbahn waterparks have struggled to stay afloat. The company racked up hundreds of millions of dollars in debt, and its corporate leaders feuded as they faced criminal charges over the boy’s death.
The Texas-based company’s future had been uncertain, but that appears to have changed. With Cedar Fair ‘s announcement that it would buy Schlitterbahn’s properties in New Braunfels and Galveston for $261 million. The parks will continue to operate under the Schlitterbahn name
Madison Iszler is a business reporter for the San Antonio Express-News, and she’s been following this story. Iszler says Ohio-based Cedar Fair operates more than a dozen theme parks across the country, but the Schlitterbahn properties will be their first parks in Texas.
“Cedar Fair is buying the New Braunfels water park, which is Schlitterbahn’s main park and the resort there, as well as its Galveston park,” Iszler says.
Iszler says the purchase comes amid legal and financial troubles for the Texas waterpark company.
“[Schlitterbahn] tried to push into Austin and Florida, but those attempts fizzled out because of politics or difficulties getting financing,” Iszler says. “A feud erupted between two of the co-owners, Jeff Henry and Gary Henry – who are brothers – while Schlitterbahn’s founder Bob Henry was on his deathbed.”
And Iszler says these struggles came to a head in 2016 when 10-year-old Caleb Schwab died at Schlitterbahn’s Kansas City waterpark on what was the world’s tallest water slide.
“In an indictment, the prosecutor said the ride violated a bunch of different safety standards,” Iszler says. “The damages against [the Henry’s] and others involved were later dropped, but the damage to Schlitterbahn was done.”
Despite the incident, Iszler says these venues represent new markets with attractive demographics for Cedar Fair.
“The Texas parks have still drawn a lot of visitors,” Iszler says. “In particular, the New Braunfels park… which has a really unique design with how it’s laid out and some of the fresh-water elements.”
The deal is expected to officially close in 30 to 45 days., Iszler says, but it’s too early to tell the long-term effects of the purchase on customers and employees.
Written by Hayden Baggett.
This article has been updated to reflect the fact that Cedar Fair intends to operate the New Braunfels and Galveston parks under the Schlitterbahn brand.