Posted: Saturday, March 5, 2011
By BRIAN IANIERI Staff Writer Press of Atlantic City
SEA ISLE CITY — Gillian’s Funland of Sea Isle City will enter its third summer in business this year by adding rides and trying to find the right recipe to draw customers to the small amusement park.
The park off 42nd Place in Sea Isle City saw mixed results its first two years, owner Jay Gillian said.
The park brought in only slightly more revenue in 2010 than its opening season in 2009 despite being open nearly a month longer in 2010.
“The first two seasons were learning experiences,” Gillian said. “The signs are good. We’ll get by, but it’s been tough. We’ve had two tough seasons to really roll out an amusement park.”
In the first year, rain delayed construction and pushed back the grand opening in June 2009 nearly a month. In 2010, the hot weather may have discouraged amusement park riders, he said.
“This will be our tell-tale year,” said Gillian, who is also the mayor of Ocean City.
The Ocean City-based amusement park company invested about $2.5 million to build an amusement park in a parking lot along Sea Isle City’s marina in 2009, Gillian said. Gillian’s Wonderland Pier in Ocean City has been a staple for generations, started by Jay Gillian’s grandfather.
Gillian has noticed differences in the two parks and how successful promotions in Ocean City did not necessarily work in Sea Isle City.
In Sea Isle City, nearly all of the business is the dinnertime crowd, a contrast to Ocean City, where business is more spread out and where specials draw many customers.
And some of the promotions that have worked in Ocean City — such as “Two Ticket Tuesdays,” in which all rides cost just two tickets for a set period of time on Tuesday afternoons — have so far not generated business in Sea Isle City.
Gillian said he intends to beef up advertising this year. He advertised heavily the first year, but cut back in 2010, particularly because of the heat, he said.
In its first year, Gillian’s in Sea Isle City generated about $390,000 in revenue. Through an agreement with the company, Sea Isle City receives 10 percent of the park’s gross revenue for leasing the land.
In 2010, the amusement park generated about $420,000, according to figures provided to Sea Isle City.
Funland grew from its beginnings as a park with about a dozen rides geared toward young children. This summer, the location will have about 16 rides.
Some of the focus has shifted to rides for older children, adding amusements such as a Tilt-A-Whirl, a Galleon and a Wacky Worm roller coaster, Gillian said.
“We’re trying everything we can to get people there. We’ll see how the economy kicks around, how the economy kicks in,” Gillian said.
For Sea Isle City, the viability of an amusement park represents more than a percentage of the revenues the city receives for leasing the land.
When it opened, the park was a welcome addition to a tourism-reliant city trying to increase its appeal to vacationing families.
Sea Isle City’s old amusement park, Fun City, closed a decade ago and was sold to developers after the owners could only find takers for the land, not the amusement park itself.
Before Gillian’s Funland opened in 2009, several other proposals to bring an amusement park to the area fizzled.
Among the problems was that the high price of real estate in Sea Isle City made it nearly economically impossible to buy the amount of land needed for a park.
“Since Fun City closed, Sea Isle had been looking for and calling for some type of facility like this,” Mayor Leonard Desiderio said.
The amusement park is located near John F. Kennedy Boulevard, the main entranceway to Sea Isle City. Local officials have been building and promoting the area in the past several years to generate attractions along a half-mile stretch between the beach and the bay.