February 26, 2024
Raging Waters' abrupt closure was a shock to people, but it shouldn't have been a surprise that the bottom line won out.

A flood of Facebook comments followed the news posted this week by Raging Waters in San Jose that the water park had closed for 2023 and wasn’t reopening for 2024.

The reactions covered a range of emotions. There were fond recollections of teenage summers, first jobs and first loves. There was shock at the abruptness of the announcement and sometimes surprise that San Jose even had Raging Waters. Some people, who conceded they hadn’t been there for years, wished they’d been told in advance so they could have had a last day. And there was anger that something people loved was being taken away, probably to be redeveloped — many seemed to suspect — into housing.

The frustration was even leveled at San Jose city leaders. Where, commenters wondered, did the city expect people to go?

The city probably expected people to go to Raging Waters, at least for the two remaining years on its lease at Lake Cunningham Park. From all accounts, the announcement also was a surprise to city leaders including Councilmember Domingo Candelas, whose district includes the park. There’s a good case to be made the city should have been aware this was coming well in advance, especially because Raging Waters is the city’s tenant.

But the really hard stares should be in the direction of Palace Entertainment, the amusement park company that’s owned Raging Waters for 20 years. And after people electronically shake their fists, express their disappointment and scream expletives, Palace Entertainment will almost certainly respond by doing nothing but saying “Thanks for the memories, San Jose.”

Once again, we’re shocked — shocked — to find Big Business cares more about its bottom line than the interests of a community — especially if those interests don’t turn as big of a profit.

This is why Cedar Fair has sold the land beneath California’s Great America in Santa Clara and announced the amusement park’s closure sometime in the next decade. It’s why the A’s are turning their back on Oakland fans and skipping town to Las Vegas. It’s why Walgreens and Safeway closed stores in downtown San Jose and why Santana West’s office buildings now occupy the land where people lined up to see “Star Wars” at the Century domes in 1977.

I’ve covered my share of last days at beloved businesses, mostly local mom-and-pop establishments where it’s hard for owners and customers to say goodbye to each other. Often, the economics just don’t pencil out anymore — a spiral that was accelerated by COVID-19 for some businesses. Readers will tell me, “Oh, I wish that place hadn’t closed. I loved it. But I hadn’t been there in years.” No kidding.

Others don’t want to close but have had their leases terminated or their land sold out from under them to be redeveloped. And some of those former beloved spots – Harry’s Hofbrau on Saratoga Avenue, Fourth Street Pizza in downtown San Jose, the Record Barn on Bascom Avenue, Patty’s Inn on Montgomery Street — have been demolished or sat vacant for years with nothing on the horizon to replace them.

But Raging Waters’ exit leaves a different heartache. It’s much more like the way United Artists ditched its downtown San Jose movie theater in January 2000. After operating the 8-screen cineplex for less than four years, management turned away moviegoers one Saturday night with tales of technical problems and then ripped out seats and loaded projectors and theater equipment into trucks overnight. City officials were caught speechless when they found out UA wasn’t coming back.

UA only had a four-year relationship with San Jose. Raging Waters was here 38 years, making this much, much harder to take.

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Raging Waters could have, should have handled this better. Even if they were looking at a bleak financial landscape, Palace Entertainment could have announced that it was not going to renew its lease and that its final season in San Jose would be 2024. People likely would have lined up to buy commemorative passes and taken one last trip around the Endless River. (This is actually how Frontier Village made its exit back with a “Last Round-Up” summer in 1980.)

No doubt somebody looked at the numbers and figured doing that would cost some amount of money and closing the way they did would cost a dollar – or $10,000 – less. And here we are, left high and dry without a water park.

So you can be disappointed with the city for not foreseeing or forestalling the closure. You definitely can be mad at Palace Entertainment for leaving or just handling the breakup badly. And, if you want, you can even regret not taking the kids for one more ride on the slides this summer. Just don’t be surprised the next time this happens.

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