Darien Lake gets New GM

When Rod Rankin first arrived in Buffalo this winter, he was greeted by — what else — snow.

It didn’t faze him, even being a “West Coast kinda guy.”

Rankin is now Darien Lake Amusement Park’s new general manager, taking over from Bob Montgomery who returned to his native Canada. Rankin comes to Darien Lake from Denver’s Elitch Gardens theme park near Denver. Elitch Gardens and Darien Lake are both owned by Herschend Family Amusements.

Since arriving in Buffalo in January, Rankin has seen a lot of snow, even for someone coming from Denver.

“There, it snows one day and is 60 degrees the next day,” Rankin joked.

Rankin arrived at the Genesee County attraction embarks on one of its most ambitious seasons in its 50-year history. Among its new rides and the “Ignite the Night” laser show, Darien Lake has secured famed aerialist Nik Wallenda for a summer-long residency that will include daily high-wire walks and the creation of a specially-themed show and demonstration. Wallenda begins his residency with a special Memorial Day weekend performance.

“Nik is great and will help us bring in a lot of guests, especially people who may not have been here in recent years,” Rankin said. “We have something no other park in the country has — Nik Wallenda.”

Traditionally, Darien Lake attracts more than 1 million visitors during its season that begins in early May and runs through mid-October. It is also Genesee County’s largest employer with more than 2,500 full- and part time workers during the summer. Darien Lake begins the 2014 season on May 10, although it is offering a sneak preview for season ticket holders on May 3.

For Rankin, a longtime theme and amusement park industry veteran, it is all about the guest experience. One of the innovations he is bringing to Darien Lake this season is a “happiness guarantee” meaning the park will offer future admission passes if patrons have their “day” ruined by rain or other weather-related issues.

And, if someone has to wait more than 45 minutes in line for one of the park’s rides, he will issue a “front of the line” pass.

“I’m really trying to up our game,” Rankin said. “I never look at a park as an administrator. I look at it as a guest and how they want and expect to be treated.”

In Darien Lake, Rankin comes to a theme park whose base audience hails from both Buffalo and Rochester, but also Southern Ontario and Pennsylvania as well as other states.

Rankin is fully cognizant of the heavy local competition including Martin’s Fantasy Island on Grand Island, Rochester’s Sea Breeze Amusement Park and Canada’s Wonderland, just outside of Toronto. Yet, he’s not worried.

“Competition makes us all better,” Rankin said. “There’s enough of a market for all of us to exist. It makes total sense to me that a family may come to Darien Lake, but may also make their way to Sea Breeze.”

What did surprise Rankin is the sheer size and scope of Darien Lake. The 1,000-acre park is home to more than 45 rides including six roller coasters, a 20,000-seat concert venue operated by Live Nation, a full water park, 32 on site restaurants and/or concession stands and the opportunity to house more than 7,000 visitors at its hotel, camp grounds and RV sites.

“I was totally amazed at just how many moving parts there are here,” Rankin said. “But, that also helps define why Darien Lake is such an important part of the fabric of Western New York.”


Updated: April 3, 2014 — 10:32 pm

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