“We are definitely in financial distress,” said Kymberly Miller, executive director of Children’s Fairyland. “If we don’t open in August, we’ll have to consider other options. We remain hopeful that our outdoor facility, deemed low-risk, with rides and shows paused that families will find a safe space of respite — out of the house.”
The amusement park, which has been closed since March 13 because of the shelter-in-place order, was set to reopen this month but those plans have been put on indefinite hold.
On Sunday, Alameda County was placed on the state’s monitoring list for coronavirus because of the recent alarming and persistent rise of thousands of COVID-19 infections, which shut down indoor activities at restaurants, wineries, zoos, museums, movie theaters and family entertainment centers in addition to a number of other restrictions.
But on Monday, the state granted a variance to Alameda County that allows outdoor dining and the reopening of the Oakland Zoo, which was in danger of closing for good. And Miller said the park is hopeful of reopening soon.
“The county is well aware of our situation and value as a managed outdoor space, like the zoo,” Miller said.
When Children’s Fairyland had to close down in March, 46 employees were furloughed, losing their pay but maintaining benefits.
Meanwhile, a skeleton work crew remained to support the full-time animal care staff responsible for feeding and maintaining the park’s 15 animals — including miniature horses and goats.
In April, Children’s Fairyland received a $400,000 loan from the federal government’s Paycheck Protection Program. Miller used the funds to bring back her staff because “we wanted to do what we could to support our staff in these trying times.”
Children’s Fairyland has lost about $1.2 million in revenue since the quarantine, according to Miller. The annual budget for the park is $3.2 million, and Miller said maintaining the animals alone costs the park about $120,000 a year.
On July 8, she was forced to once again furlough 33 employees, while maintaining the animal care and skeleton crew, because the PPP money ran out.
“We needed to start preserving dollars to protect the organization,” she said, expecting the loan would tide over the park until the reopening. “It did not. It was incredibly tough.”
She said that closing the park for “any amount of time without resources and staff will be perilous.”
In the meantime, Miller said she and the staff have been working on plans to modify and scale down things at Children’s Fairyland, including reducing capacity by two-thirds from 2,500 to 700; closing rides and allowing for social distancing during shows and performances for children; single-family use of the restrooms; social “bubbles” in the park’s grassy areas; requiring masks for ages 12 and up and strongly encouraging masks for ages 2 to 11; posting increased signage for social distancing; and personal protective gear for staff.
In addition, she said the hours will be changed and split into a morning and afternoon session — from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 2 to 5 p.m., with staff doing deep cleaning of the park from 1 to 2 p.m. The park also is overhauling its sanitization plan and will have more staff involved with cleaning the facility.
Miller said that Children’s Fairyland is open now for a smaller summer camp of about up to a dozen children while maintaining social distancing outdoors.
She noted the significance of Children’s Fairyland, intertwined with the East Bay community.“Children’s Fairyland is a beloved icon of Oakland and the Bay Area with a history deeply connected to its city and citizens,” she said. “It is a cultural institution — a safe, stimulating, stress-free zone to create imagine and learn.”
On Sept. 2, Children’s Fairyland marks its 70th anniversary and Miller said she hopes to be celebrating that milestone by “bringing the organization to the next level,” including issues of equity.
She said that sense of equity is all-encompassing, including making the park accessible and having reasonable admissions, as well as having the stories — puppet shows, children’s theater and storybook installations — reflect the diversity of the community instead of being predominately European traditional fairy tale depictions of characters.
To make a donation to Children’s Fairyland, go to https://bit.ly/FairylandFund.