Gurnee planning panel on board with Great America’s 165-foot-tall thrill ride
BY DAN MORAN firstname.lastname@example.org | @NewsSunDanMoran August 22, 2013 2:58PM
People walk around Great America with the Iron Wolf roller coaster in the background. ORG XMIT: CST1304042235093255
Updated: October 22, 2013 3:14AM
GURNEE — Six Flags Great America’s plans for a 165-foot-tall roller coaster are on track for construction after the Gurnee Planning and Development Board on Wednesday, Aug. 21, recommended a waiver of the park’s 125-foot height limit.
“I don’t think they’re going to remain competitive if we don’t approve things like this,” said Board Member Edwin Paff after the panel voted 5-0 to move the proposal forward.
The Gurnee Village Board is scheduled to vote on final approval Sept. 9.
What exactly Six Flags will be sending into the field of roller-coaster competition will remain officially under wraps until Aug. 29, when the park plans a formal announcement.
The only details Great America President Hank Salemi was required to provide Wednesday were the requested height and location of the ride. He reported that the ride would exceed the 125-foot limit only on its lift hill and would be placed on the site of the former Iron Wolf.
“We are very proud to bring another multi-million dollar investment into our park and into the village of Gurnee,” Salemi said. “We feel that it’s going to be a tremendous attendance-builder for us. It will be great for all parties involved, including the admissions revenues (for) the village.”
While Salemi beamed about the new attraction for the 37-year-old Great America, others at Gurnee’s public hearing weren’t thrilled about the prospect of the park adding to its roster of thrill rides.
The concerns were expressed by neighbors in subdivisions northeast of Great America. They said the new coaster will add to what they described as increasing issues with noise.
“First of all, I’d like to say that, yes, I live next to an amusement park,” South Avenue resident Janice Brogran told the board. “I’ve lived there for 23 years and it’s been relatively OK, but the last couple of years, we’ve been impacted by things we’re not supposed to be impacted by.”
Brogan added that debris from fireworks displays often ends up in her yard, and “this (igNight performance) they’ve had every night — we got a letter saying that it wouldn’t impact us, but every night from about 9:40 to 10:15, you have to close your windows because the noise is so loud.”
Fuller Road resident Susan Schneider also lodged a complaint about the daily igNight performance, asking the board if it had “done any studies on what loud, intrusive noise does to a neighborhood, when people have to go to bed angry and disrupted and powerless because you can’t do anything about the sound.
“You can call the police and they say, ‘Call Great America.’ You can call Great America and get a voicemail,” Schneider said. “You can email Great America, and they say, ‘Whoops — your email doesn’t work, try again.’ So who’s going to help us if the village doesn’t?”
Barb Becker turned to Great America officials in attendance and told them that “I live at 5075 Darlene Court, which is right in your backyard. My backyard is your backyard, and I hear everything in (the) whole park.
“I get used to it like living by a train, but there are times you hear noises where you’d just love to go over there and shut some people’s mouths up, because they’re not saying nice words or happy sounds,” Becker added. “I would like to know what kind of noises I’m going to be hearing and what time they’re going to start.”
Looking to assuage concerns about excessive noise, Salemi pointed out that the stand-up steel coaster Iron Wolf operated on the same County Fair site from 1990 to 2011.
Site plans displayed Wednesday show the coaster’s track footprint running north-south on the southeast edge of the property, taking some land from what is now a picnic grove and a corner of the Wilderness Theater.
“We feel like, in terms of the use of our space, it is in an area that will be relatively quiet to those residents. It is a space that has had a coaster on it before,” said Salemi, adding that “just so you know, there are polyurethane wheels on this coaster, which will absolutely minimize the noise.
“Though we won’t know fully until the ride is erected, we think it will actually be a quieter coaster than the coaster that existed on that land for years and years and years.”
Brae Court resident David Nevolo, who described himself as “a theme park fan,” was among more than a dozen coaster enthusiasts in attendance supporting the development.
“This is all really exciting for me,” Nevolo said. “I’m excited to see that the park is doing well and wants to invest in doing even (better). The industry is really competitive these days, and almost every coaster surpasses the 125-foot height limit that was set back in the ‘70s, so I think it’s important for the village to continue to support the park.”
The new attraction would not be Great America’s tallest thrill ride or coaster. When Raging Bull was under development prior to opening in 1999, it required variances not only for its 202-foot lift hill, but also for separate peaks of 155 feet, 141 feet and 128 feet.
The tallest structures in the park are the 310-foot Sky Trek Tower rotating observation platform, which opened in 1977, and the 227-foot Giant Drop that debuted in 1997 in Southwest Territory.
Park officials declined comment on any additional ride specifics following Wednesday’s meeting, and Gurnee Mayor Kristina Kovarik downplayed published comments that had her describing the proposal as a push for a wooden roller coaster with record-breaking speed.
“Those were my guesses. Those were not official statements from Great America,” Kovarik said Thursday, Aug. 22. “I inferred from what I had seen and been told by them that it will be a wooden coaster, (and) I believe it’s going to be a very fast roller coaster.”
Great America’s American Eagle — with a first drop of 147 feet and a top speed of 66 mph — held the title as the world’s highest and fastest wooden coaster when it opened in 1981. That speed record was surpassed in 2000, and it is currently held by the 70-mph El Toro at Six Flags Great Adventure in New Jersey.