In a boardwalk believe-it-or-not, Ripley returns as Ripley's owner

`I think we regretted ever leaving Ocean City,' company executive says

April 11, 2002|By June Arney | June Arney,SUN STAFF

For years, officials at Ripley's Entertainment Inc. wished they had never left Ocean City.

The Ripley's name returned to the seaside resort last year as a franchised operation. Now, the corporation has bought back the franchise after the museum's first year of operations exceeded projections.

When the boardwalk museum - Ripley's Believe It or Not Museum with the 50-foot-long, animated shark crashing through it - opened in May, it returned to the same building where a Ripley's had operated years earlier.

From 1978 to 1984, Ripley's corporate office operated a museum there, said Edward T. Meyer, vice president of exhibits and archives at Ripley's Entertainment in Orlando, Fla. Because the rent was going to rise significantly, the company made the decision to pull out of the resort town.

"I think we regretted ever leaving Ocean City," Meyer said. "We've looked at Ocean City many times thinking we should be there. ... You want to go back, but you can't go back until the right spot is available."

The space was used for other businesses until Bill Sims, past president and former chairman of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions, leased the building last summer and opened the museum franchise. Recently, he sold the franchise back to Ripley and the corporation took over his lease, Sims said.

"The numbers were great," he said. "I got an offer, and I made a decision to sell." He and Ripley's officials declined to reveal the sale price or to provide attendance numbers for the 10,000-square-foot museum located by Trimper Rides & Amusements at the south end of the boardwalk.

"I was always extremely optimistic about the Ocean City market," Sims said. "I exceeded my projection, but I was not surprised. It's a good market."

Sims now plans to pursue future development projects with Ripley's, he said.

Inside the Ocean City location are more than 500 one-of-a-kind curiosities from around the world, including dinosaur artifacts, shrunken heads, torture chamber devices and an autopsy table.

The museum also houses a 42-foot replica roller coaster that it took a man 12 years to build and a meteorite from Mars worth more than $1 million, Meyer said.

Because of the Mars exhibit, the contents of the Ocean City museum are valued at between $3 million and $4 million, Meyer said. Typically the exhibits in a Ripley's museum are worth about $1.5 million, he said.

Ocean City's proximity to large metropolitan areas and a steady stream of visitors ensure a prime location for an attraction such as Ripley's, Meyer said. "It still does a good family business," he said of Ocean City. "It may be one of the last places of its kind."

Ripley's hopes to boost business by 20 percent over last year by staying open longer hours and later in the season, Meyer said. Already, the lobby has been renovated in advance of the summer season and an English Austin mini car, covered with gold-plated English pennies, installed by the cashier, he said.

Ripley's Entertainment owns and operates 40 attractions in nine countries.

A part of the Jim Pattison Group, one of Canada's largest privately owned companies, Ripley's family attractions draw more than 10 million guests a year.

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