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September 13, 2019
After World War II, Cincinnati’s Coney Island became somewhat of a regional destination as evidenced by the brochure above issued by a Cleveland group called the Rainbow Girls in 1953.
Not too dissimilar from other amusement parks of the day, Coney Island did have one unique feature, of course; Sunlite Pool, the world’s largest recirculating pool. Post-World War II, Coney Island saw tremendous growth. New rides and attractions were added while many of the park’s buildings received a facelift. So impressive was the park, Walt Disney himself visited in the early 1950s to get ideas for his planned Disneyland amusement park in Anaheim. A check for $1.00, written by Disney for consulting services, remains in the Coney Island archives.
Growing while others went under
Even as other parks around the country struggled and even closed, Coney continued to grow and attract a steady amount of visitors through the 1960s. However, two things prevented further growth. One was the Ohio River which frequently trespassed on park property. In 1964, it submerged Coney in 14 feet of water. The second problem was the park couldn’t expand. Across the street lay steep hills. To the west a popular horse racing track and to the east the right-of-way for the proposed Interstate 275. Management started looking for a new home for the park when the third shoe dropped.
In September of 1968, Fess Parker, whose TV show Daniel Boone was in its fourth season, held a press conference at the Greater Cincinnati Airport, now known as Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport. He announced plans for a huge amusement park called Frontier World to be located around the I-71/75 split near Walton. He even had 1,500 acres of land under option.
Looking for a partner
Coney Island officials quickly started searching for someone with deep pockets and quickly hooked up with locally-based Taft Communications. Two years earlier, Taft had purchased Hanna-Barbera studios. To them, an amusement park seemed like a great way to promote a stable of characters that included The Flintstones, Yogi Bear, and Johnny Quest. Spurred by Parker’s plans, Taft bought land north of Cincinnati in Warren County and announced plans to move Coney Island out to the ‘burbs.
In 1971, a year after ground was broken on what would become Kings Island, Parker through in the towel realizing he wouldn't be able to compete with the new park. Coney closed its gates on September 6, 1971. The following spring, Kings Island opened. While many rides and buildings were relocated to the new park, Coney’s biggest attraction, obviously, could not be moved. In the spring of 1972, Sunlite Pool was opened for business as usual but saw a 90 percent drop in attendance.
With Kings Island up and running, Taft tried to sell Coney Island but found no buyers largely due to the park’s flooding issues. In 1973, they took the property off the market and instead reopened the picnic groves and added a private tennis club the following year. In 1976, the park was renamed, Old Coney. Kiddie rides were added, along with paddleboats on Lake Como, and a refurbished miniature golf course.
The development of Riverbend
In 1984, Taft donated 15 acres of the property to the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra who in turn developed the Riverbend Amphitheater complex, still one of the finest venues of its kind in the U.S. Keenly aware of the area’s soggy reputation, Riverbend was designed to withstand, and easily bounce back from, floods, something it has done many times since it opened.
In later years, more rides were added and Old Coney developed into the park that Tristaters enjoy today. In September of 2019, park officials announced that the rides would be removed for the 2020 season as the water park, centered on Sunlite pool, would become the focus of the historic Old Coney.
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