I Was Theme Park When Theme Park Wasn’t Cool

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I chose to leave the cable industry nearly
a decade ago, after having produced the industry’s
Western Show and Kaitz Foundation dinners for ages.
Having been inducted as a Cable Pioneer in 1996, my
years in cable remain a source of pride and
satisfaction. When I left, I believe the headline
in Multichannel News was something along
the lines of “Hirschfield Leaves Cable Industry
for Kiddie Park,” or some such rot. Now it
shall be known to all why I left, and we’ll see
who gets the last laugh.

I departed to run the nation’s original storybook
theme park; a park in Oakland, Calif., that
is credited with inspiring Walt Disney to create
his little venture in Anaheim, Calif.

There was method to my madness. I could see
way before Brian Roberts did that the themepark
business was the next big thing; a natural progression
from cable. Amusement is amusement, be it indoor or out.
Believe me, I’m not in this because of the 166,000-plus small
kids who visit us every year, or the 9,000 inner-city children
who receive subsidized passes to our 10-acre fantasy land
that focuses on stories and books. Or the children’s performing
arts theatre we built that just ended a smash run of
“Go, Dog. Go!” performed by professional actors. Or our 55-
year-old children’s theatre program, one graduate of which
now serves on our city council. No, I could see the writing
on the wall. Someday I could turn this do-goody nonprofit
into a property that would be attractive enough to flip over
to Comcast. I could make a killing if the right stage was set.

To that end, I joined my professional peers to create the
California Attractions and Parks Association, the first advocacy
group of its kind in the state, amazingly enough.
Comcast knows the importance of effective lobbying, and I
needed to create an environment for them that was conducive
to theme-park growth. My colleagues from Disneyland,
Legoland, Paramount, Sea World, Cedar Fair, Universal
and others actually elected me to serve as the group’s first
chairperson, a role I held for six years. Having learned a little
about quality advocacy from my friends at NCTA and CCTA,
I helped on such issues as ride inspection standards
and fees, ride safety laws and state tourism
funding.

When Comcast jumped into the theme park
biz with its purchase of Universal, I knew the
time was right for me to make my move. Brian,
you are very lucky to have inherited some very
great people in the governmental relations field:
Janice Miller, John McReynolds, Mike Silver—
all whip-smart and committed to the cause of
making the world safe for amusement parks.

I’d like to schedule an appointment with you
at IAAPA (the amusement industry’s convention)
in Orlando, Fla., this November, Brian. We can take
a meeting at the Dippin’ Dots booth, and I can share my
vast knowledge of an industry that, like cable, was started
by entrepreneurial families who wanted to offer quality entertainment
choices to people in their communities. And we
can discuss how a Northern California theme park property
could provide a strategic advantage as you expand into
your new industry.

Welcome to the world of foods on a stick and frivolous
lawsuits, Brian. Some people actually love being in the
memory-making business. Me? I’m in it for the chocolatedipped
bacon and the ka-ching of the penny press machine
on a good day.

I’ll have my person call your person.

C.J. Hirschfield is executive director of Children’s
Fairyland in Oakland, Calif., the recipient of this year’s
“Nonprofit Impact Award” from the Oakland Metropolitan
Chamber of Commerce.

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