An Ocean City Icon Faces Turn in Economic Tide

Trimper's Rides, an Ocean City mainstay since 1890, is owned by 14 family members, some of whom are seeking help from the state to keep the park open.
Trimper's Rides, an Ocean City mainstay since 1890, is owned by 14 family members, some of whom are seeking help from the state to keep the park open. (Photos By Linda Davidson -- The Washington Post)
By Philip Rucker
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, May 28, 2007

OCEAN CITY -- For 117 summers, generations of children have frolicked through Trimper's Rides on this beach resort town's signature boardwalk. But this Memorial Day weekend might begin the last summer they circle the antique wooden carousel, fling around the Tilt-a-Whirl and loop through the Tidal Wave roller coaster.

The Trimpers say they are considering closing the amusement park and arcade this year.

As Ocean City has exploded into a megaresort, property taxes have soared for Trimper's, which operates on the last chunk of undeveloped land on the town's three-mile boardwalk. In the past three years, family members said, their assessed property value has tripled, from $21 million to $65 million.

So the Trimpers are facing reality. Revenue from thrill rides and arcade games can't keep pace with the skyrocketing value of their three-block site, they say. In addition to property taxes, insurance and energy costs are up, and the family is split over what to do: Some members want to sell, but others want to find a way -- perhaps through a change to lower the park's assessment or a historic designation -- to keep going.

"After 117 years, I don't want to be the Trimper that closes the place up," said family patriarch Granville D. Trimper, 78, president of the company. Although he declined to provide financial specifics, Trimper said, "We can't keep going without making a profit."

Across the nation -- from Coney Island, N.Y., to Myrtle Beach, S.C., to Panama City, Fla. -- beach amusement parks have become victims of the ocean-view development boom.

Trimper's is the oldest continuously owned amusement park in the United States, and its demise would reverberate beyond the mid-Atlantic shore, said Jim Futrell of the National Amusement Park Historical Association.

Closing Trimper's "will forever change Ocean City, and I don't think it will change it for the better," Futrell said. "It would rob the community of its soul."

No developer has approached the family about buying the property, said Doug Trimper, Granville's son, who helps manage the park. But the Trimpers need only consider recent history to know what could be in store if they sell.

At Coney Island, the vintage Astroland amusement park is scheduled to close at the end of this summer after 45 years in operation. A developer bought the park for $30 million and plans to build hotels and condominiums.

In Myrtle Beach, the Pavilion amusement park was shuttered in the fall after 58 years. In April, the old park's creaky benches, rickety go-karts and chipped carousel horses were auctioned, and the property's owner plans to develop a shopping mall.

And in Panama City, the Miracle Strip Amusement Park, home to Florida's first roller coaster, went dark in 2004 after 41 years. A developer bought the 20-acre oceanfront property for a reported $15 million to build high-rise condominiums.

CONTINUED     1           >

© 2007 The Washington Post Company