Paul McKibben reports:
Dennis Speigel makes a living by keeping thrill-seekers happy. Speigel is president and owner of International Theme Park Services Inc., a Walnut Hills-based amusement park consulting business.
The firm has worked on amusement parks all over the world, including the Philippines, China, Mexico and the United States. The company has 15 employees.
Speigel, 66, started in the business at age 13 when he was a ticket taker at Coney Island. He was the assistant park manager of Kings Island when it opened in 1972 and helped planned the Mason attraction.
Forty years ago, what were your expectations for Kings Island?
ANSWER: We knew that we had built a phenomenal facility that was well located. We knew it had the capability to draw from six markets (Cincinnati, Columbus, Dayton, Lexington, Louisville and Indianapolis). And that’s why the park’s located there – because there were highways feeding that. The thing that probably surprises me the most is I never thought the company would be owned by five different owners. I thought it’d still be operated by Taft (Broadcasting) or one of its subsidiaries. What we built was one of the world’s most successful theme parks, and it still is today.
How fortunate is Cincinnati to have an amusement park like Kings Island?
A: Through the 40 years, it’s drawn hundreds of millions of people. What it’s done for the area is just phenomenal. It’s been a huge impact. Probably most interesting is the number of young people who have trained and been educated in business at Kings Island.
What qualities should a good theme park have?
A: You have to have a good utility feed in the area. You need to have good access. You have to have a network of highways that feed it. You have to have good visibility. You want to be seen. You need a good rolling piece of land that has character to it. When we bought the property for Kings Island, it was a farm.
Q: If you were to design your own ride, what would it be?
A: I still ride all the rides, the roller coasters for sure. I just don’t like to go upside down anymore. I get vertigo so I kind of watch that. One of the rides that we worked on and we did design early on was the looping coaster. That was basically designed on a cocktail napkin at (the former) Chester’s Road House, which used to be a restaurant above Montgomery Inn, where Joseph Chevrolet is today.
Q: Is there an amusement park ride anywhere in the world you won’t go on?
A: I tell you the one I’ve never been on is the Disney submarine ride. I’m claustrophobic. I tried to get in that one time. They were closing the hatch, and I said “let me out of here’’ and I got out just because of claustrophobia. But I’ve ridden the Tower of Terror and Space Mountain and all the wooden roller coasters you can think of, more than you’d ever want to ride.