E.J. Randolph isn't your typical thrill-seeking amusement park general manager - he doesn't even like to ride roller coasters.
"I'm scared of heights," he admits.
"You won't see me getting on the Rampage," Randolph added, referring to the wooden roller coaster that's the biggest attraction at Alabama Adventure's Magic City USA theme park, once known as VisionLand.
The Minnesota native, who has worked at amusement parks for the past 25 years, took over at Alabama Adventure in Bessemer last June, shortly after the park was acquired by Adrenaline Family Entertainment of Oklahoma. He is now preparing for his first full season in charge of the Bessemer park.
Alabama Adventure kicks off its 2009 season weekends-only on April 18 before going to a daily schedule beginning Memorial Day weekend. Randolph believes Alabama Adventure can capitalize this summer on cash-strapped families opting to stay closer to home instead of visiting higher-priced parks in Atlanta or Florida.
"We feel really excited about this year," he said. "No matter how the economy gets, theme parks have become a way of life."
E.J. Randolph isn't your typical thrill-seeking amusement park general manager - he doesn't even like to ride roller coasters.Adrenaline Entertainment is counting on Splash Beach, which has become the most popular part of the park in recent years, Randolph said. The company is spending $1.1 million to build Upsurge, a 216-foot long waterslide that takes riders on a winding 47-foot drop into a 25,000-gallon pool.
"We felt it was not economical right now to invest $12 million to $14 million in a new steel roller coaster, but we can get a return on the water slide," Randolph said. "We think it will be a very popular ride."
Randolph got his first exposure at an amusement park as a 17-year-old in Arlington, Texas, when he got a summer job working at Six Flags Over Texas. He never imagined a career in the industry, saying he envisioned it as simply a way to earn some extra money.
"I got hooked on it. Once you get amusement parks in your blood, it's kind of hard to let go," Randolph said.
Working at the park helped pay his college tuition at the University of Texas. After getting a finance degree, he began working at the Six Flags park full time. A few years later, Randolph transferred to a Six Flags park in New Jersey, where he met his wife, Debi. He later moved into a management position at a suburban Washington, D.C. park eventually bought by Six Flags.
Moving to Alabama Adventure, a much smaller park, gives him a new opportunity.
"It was my first chance to run the entire operations of a park and put my own stamp on things," Randolph said. "Even though I'm not working for a big chain, it's exciting to be a part of something like this. Our owners are really excited about the park and its future."
One change initiated by Randolph: Instead of having to buy separate tickets for Splash Beach Water Park and Magic City USA or combo tickets, patrons will get into both parks for one price.
Tickets are now $34.99 for adults and $24.99 for kids under 48 inches tall and seniors 62 and older. Season tickets are $59.99 and include entry to both parks and special events such as the summer concert series.
"I felt why should people have to choose which parks to go to," Randolph said. "Both parks play well off of each other. People can go to the water park during the hot part of the day, then go have fun on the rides at the theme park."
Randolph also diversified Alabama Adventure's summer concert series, which he says was in the past tilted "too heavily to Disney Channel stars." Raven is back for the third consecutive year, but no other Disney stars are on the series, which kicks off June 5.
Randolph has booked acts including Grammy nominated R&B star Jazmine Sullivan, classic rock band Three Dog Night, Southern rockers 38 Special, Christian headliner Mercy Me and country singers Julianne Hough and Jimmy Wayne.
Randolph also has added other entertainment to draw people to the park, such as a team of acrobats, Cirque Magnifico, making a week-long stop at Alabama Adventure June 9-14; a July 11 musical event featuring local barbecue restaurants; and a Latin cultural festival on June 21. The park will host gospel concerts on Sundays in August and September, and Oktoberfest in September.
"My goal is to create family activities appealing to everyone," Randolph said
Adrenaline Entertainment hopes adding the $1.1 million Upsurge,
a 216-foot long waterslide that takes riders on a winding 47-foot drop
into a 25,000-gallon pool, will draw even more visitors to Splash Beach
at Alabama Adventure this year.