The rain began to let up as the opening ceremonies for Indiana Beach began. And as the speakers and new owner Gene Staples addressed the crowd at Friday’s VIP opening, the clouds began to disperse and the sun came out to light the rest of the day.
It was a fitting metaphor for the amusement park’s turbulent start to 2020.
On Feb. 18, the previous owners, Apex Parks Group of Aliso Viejo, California, unexpectedly announced that Indiana Beach wouldn’t be opening this year and that Apex couldn’t find a buyer.
After searches for a buyer, and White County putting together a $3 million forgivable loan as an incentive, the announcement came on April 23 that Staples and his Indiana Beach Holdings LLC had bought the park before Apex started bankruptcy proceedings.
“It really impacted a lot of people,” said Indiana State Sen. Brian Buchanan, the first of the dignitaries to speak at the re-opening. “It was a bit of a dagger, but what a turnaround.”
The park reopened to the general public on Saturday, June 27.
However, Friday’s VIP event was for those who bought a paver brick that will go into the entrance with the name of the individual, family or business that purchased it.
Crowd enthusiasm was high for the reopening, and people had come from Virginia, Ohio and Pittsburgh.
“We’re very excited not to lose our landmark,” said Susan Downs, whose family owns Norway Campground. When she first heard about Indiana Beach not opening, she was worried not as much for how it would affect their business but as a resident.
“It’s a big part of our city,” she said.
Rio Hudson of Vincennes said he’d been coming since he was 6, his son Lincoln’s age, and Lincoln has been coming with the family since he was 2. His son Devon Walker, 16, said, “When I first heard they weren’t opening, I screamed.”
The brothers had gotten season passes for Christmas, and Rio Hudson they would’ve bought new ones but were glad the old ones are being honored.
As the I.B. Crow mascot came out just before the sun to start the ceremony, the crowd of VIPs cheered him on.
But the biggest applause was for Staples, a man from the Chicago suburbs who had visited Indiana Beach as a kid and is an amusement park enthusiast. At one time, he was the was top bidder for pieces of the former Kiddie Land amusement park in Melrose Park, Illinois.
“It’s not about me. I felt that someone needed to step up,” he said. “We didn’t purchase this to make a fortune. We purchased it to save a park and invest in it.”
He credited park employees for their help and noted that crews had done the preparations to open in two months when it usually takes five to six months.
“We’re running this as a family park, We’re very hands-on,” he said, and three of his children — Alex, Maddie and Elam — were with him, and Isabella will also be involved.
“It’s been a labor of love,” he said. “I wish I could’ve done so much more.”
The park itself has fresh coats of paint and improvements, and Staples said that more is being done over the summer. Some areas are still being redone, like the Beach Brews booth and the Nightmare on Shafer Street exhibit, and new things are coming in.
The park bought a smaller Ferris wheel for the kiddieland section partially because of the lights, and one of the other rides under construction is a Flying Bobs with “Coney Island” painted on the side.
“It goes with the whole vintage Americana. We don’t just want carnival rides. We want rides that have history,” Staples said.
The park still has the Kentucky Derby game, the Fascination game and much of its old signs, and the old fortune telling machine was available for photos, even though it wasn’t working.
Joe Weiss of Monticello said Staples is a local hero for rescuing the park.
“He took something that everyone was going to miss, and he’s building and improving it and bringing new excitement to the area,” Weiss said.
White County Councilman Art Anderson told the audience during the opening ceremony that Staples improved the park’s mechanical parts and appearance.
Maylynn Clark said she’s glad to be working at the park again, having started last year at the age of 14.
“This year is much better,” she said. The new ownership and management seem to care more about the employees and the park, and the park’s clean and being taken care of, she said.
Bill Linkenheimer and Lee Ann Draud of Pittsburgh came as members of American Coaster Enthusiasts.
“I came here many times, and I came here before they built their first wooden coaster,” he said.
The park is unique in being a classic park and having its own hotel and campground while being by the water.
Linkenheimer likes what Staples has done to improve the park so far.
Adam Spektor came from Cleveland, Ohio, to visit the park for the first time after renewing his enthusiasm for rollercoasters over the winter and COVID-19 lockdowns. When news came that Indiana Beach was closing, he figured it was a place he’d never get to visit.
“I found this was happening, and I wanted to support it,” he said.
The Spackman family started Indiana Beach in 1926 as Ideal Beach and slowly grew the amusement park over the years.
Morgan RV LLC bought it from the Spackman family in February 2008, then Apex bought it on Sept. 1, 2015, from Morgan.
Staples said that Apex fought its financial partners to make sure the park was sold as a whole instead of in pieces.
“They believed in this park,” he said.
“Once 85 percent of the people are happy, then we’ll relax and make the other 15 percent happy,” Staples said.
He also said that he looks at nearby Holiday World amusement park as a counterpart and “we want to have Indiana lead the Midwest in bringing things back to normal.”
Randy Mitchell, president of White County Economic Development, said that learning of the February closing was the darkest day of his year. But seeing it open after all the input and work was “very satisfying.”