Gardens set to spring open

Robert Helt, top, and Francisco Gonzales of Davey Painting in

– The effort to keep solvent Gilroy’s financially troubled
horticultural theme park enters a new phase this weekend when
Bonfante Gardens opens its gates for the 2003 season.
GILROY – The effort to keep solvent Gilroy’s financially troubled horticultural theme park enters a new phase this weekend when Bonfante Gardens opens its gates for the 2003 season.

The park reopens Friday morning under the direction of Paramount Parks, one of the nation’s leading theme park operators. The park will be open mostly on weekends until June 6, when it stays open daily.

“We’re aiming for a similar (opening day) turnout to last year. We think with it being Easter weekend we’re going to have a strong opening,” Paramount spokesperson Nicole Koebrich said.

Over the last month, Paramount has piggybacked a marketing campaign for its Santa Clara-based Great America amusement park with Bonfante Gardens. The deal allows families and individuals to purchase a VIP pass to Great America and automatically receive admission privileges to Bonfante Gardens.

Paramount officials would not say how many VIP passes had been sold, but called the marketing campaign “a success.”

“We can promise that we will not close early this year,” Koebrich said. “This is the earliest opening date since the park’s grand opening, and we will be open for every calendar date we’ve scheduled so far.”

In February, Bonfante Gardens signed Paramount Parks to a five-year, day-to-day operations management deal, struck to bring the park into profitability.

For at least one Bonfante board of directors member, this weekend does not amount to a test of the new management team.

“For me this is just about total excitement,” Director Patti Hale said. “I think our partnership with (Paramount) was the right thing to do, and I have a lot of hope for the future.”

In its first two years, Bonfante Gardens was plagued with undesirable attendance levels which led to scaled back hours of operation, full-time and part-time job layoffs and canceled holiday celebrations. By October 2002, Bonfante Gardens announced an across the board layoff of 50 full-time employees.

Last month, Paramount announced its business plan for Bonfante Gardens. Barb Granter, a Paramount director serving as vice president of Bonfante Gardens, said then her company would market the two Bay Area parks “whenever and wherever it makes sense.”

The marketing campaign has since been aired on television and radio.

Bonfante Gardens has offered mostly seasonal positions to more than 550 applicants. Koebrich said most of the hires are from the Gilroy and Hollister area and “run the spectrum of ages” similar to last year.

The original business plan called for as many as 700 employees. More than 100 people have approached the park to be docents, Granter said last month.

Behind-the-scenes operations may have changed a lot since last season, but the 600-acre Hecker Pass park itself remains largely unchanged. Bonfante Gardens plans to operate its existing 19 rides and 21 attractions and educate families about the benefits of horticulture. It will also reopen its paddle boat ride which was shut down last season over liability issues.

“The park is really beautiful now that spring is here,” Koebrich said. “We hope people come out to enjoy the park and see all the flowers that have bloomed.”

Spring Operating Calendar

April 18, 10 a.m. -7 p.m. (Opening Day)

April 19 – 20, 10 a.m. -7 p.m.

April 23 – 27, 10 a.m. -7 p.m.

May 2, Hours TBA

May 3 – 4, 10 a.m. -7 p.m.

May 9, Hours TBA

May 10 -11, 10 a.m. -7 p.m.

May 16, Hours TBA

May 17 – 18, 10 a.m. -7 p.m.

May 23, Hours TBA

May 24 – 26, 10 a.m. -7 p.m.

May 30, Hours TBA

May 31, 10 a.m. -7 p.m.


General Admission: $29.95

Seniors (ages 65+): $21.95

Children (ages 3 to 6): $21.95

Children (ages 2 and younger): Free

Parking at Bonfante Gardens Family Theme Park is $7 per vehicle.

Information: 840-7100