Attendance record – Bonfante Gardens sets a new standard

– Bonfante Gardens topped off three months of daily operations
on a high note last Sunday with its best day ever in its three year
history, park officials say.
By Lori Stuenkel

GILROY – Bonfante Gardens topped off three months of daily operations on a high note last Sunday with its best day ever in its three year history, park officials say.

The horticultural-themed family park, which is currently enjoying its first financially profitable year, saw the largest attendance numbers in its history over Labor Day weekend.

“Overall, it was one of the best weekends we’ve had,” said Nicole Koebrich, spokeswoman for Paramount Parks. The major national theme park operator took over daily operations for Bonfante Gardens from the board of directors early this year.

The park would not release Sunday’s record attendance numbers, but said the turnout follows recent attendance increases. Park attendance was up 14.5 percent this year and sales of season passes doubled. This year’s improvement became even more evident during the month of August.

“The trend in the last four or five weeks overall has been very good and very encouraging,” said Bob Kraemer, chairman of the park’s board of directors. “Surely, better than any time this year.”

Kraemer attributed the increased attendance to better park management.

“We have a professional management team under Paramount, and park operations continue to improve with professionals better understanding how to run the park,” Kraemer said.

Paramount also improved advertising for the park, combining a campaign between Great America amusement park in Santa Clara and Bonfante Gardens and selling dual season passes for the two parks.

Bonfante officials said in August that, based on attendance from April to June, the park would turn a profit this year. The park had struggled to succeed financially since opening in March 2001.

Labor Day weekend marks the end of the park’s daily weekday operations. Bonfante Gardens opened in April for weekends only and has been open daily since June. All rides will be operating and all stages and attractions will run through October.

This is the first time the park has operated later than Labor Day, and it will remain open on weekends until Halloween. Paramount had planned to maintain the weekend hours through October and, due to the attendance numbers this season, the park will not have to close early, Koebrich said.

“Those were the dates the park was scheduled to be open,” she said. “It was set at the beginning of the year.”

Bonfante Gardens closes during weekdays following the Labor Day holiday because most children have gone back to school. A large number of the of the park’s employees are teenagers who also attend school in Gilroy and started classes again last week, Koebrich said.

“Staffing has gone down because we have less hours available,” she said. “The park will be fully staffed on the weekends.”

No major changes were made to the park’s rides and attractions for the 2003 season, and park officials said they would not look at changes for 2004 until after this season ends. The park will finish the year with harvest-themed events during the month of October, including arts and crafts and photo opportunities with farm animals. The Pacific Coast Farmers Market Association is partnering with the park to provide a market where vendors will sell locally grown produce.

A Halloween-themed performance called “Mona the Vampire’s Halloween Extravaganza” will run every weekend as well. Shows are free with the price of admission.

Bonfante Gardens has added some perks to its season pass for next year, which goes on sale Saturday. Those who purchase the Bonfante Gardens 2004 season pass before the end of the 2003 season will receive free parking at Bonfante for the rest of the fall and all of next year, Koebrich said. The 2004 pass can also be used through this October. Those who purchase a Bonfante season pass before Sept. 28 also will receive a single-use pass to bring a friend to the park for free. Season passes for Bonfante Gardens only are $54.99 for an individual pass and $49.99 each when four or more are purchased.

The Great America VIP passes that include Bonfante Gardens admission are on sale through the Santa Clara park and do not include free parking at the Gilroy park.