n 1966, Earl Gascoigne, marketing director at Cedar Point in Sandusky, Ohio, was impressed by the success of SeaWorld San Diego and eager to form a partnership with the park’s founder, George Millay. Gascoigne spoke with Millay about building a second park near the Ohio amusement park. Millay was uncomfortable with the location and sales agreement, and declined to build there. Two years later, Millay and his team were looking to expand their brand eastward. The company was looking for a location between Detroit and Pittsburgh, as the land spanning between the two cities was the largest and highest-paid blue-collar population in the United States.
Earl Gascoigne had recently left Cedar Point to redevelop Geauga Lake, a struggling amusement park near Cleveland, with his colleague and friend Gasper Lococo. The men were searching for a way to increase attendance and revenue at Geauga Lake other than simply adding new attractions. Gascoigne took the opportunity to reconnect with George Millay. Now working with Funtime Inc., Earl Gascoigne convinced Millay to build the second SeaWorld park adjacent to Geauga Lake. The Ohio SeaWorld project was announced in 1968.
SeaWorld Cleveland, originally referred to as Sea World of Ohio in 1969, opened to the public on May 29, 1970, after nearly two years of planning and construction. Located approximately 20 miles southeast of Cleveland, in the Western Reserve city of Aurora, Ohio, the 25-acre marine park welcomed over 5,500 guests on its opening day. The oceanarium cost $5.5 million to build, but greatly exceeded the expectations of Millay and his team. In its first 100-day season, SeaWorld Cleveland doubled attendance predictions as more than 1.1 million people visited the park in 1970.
The marine park was beautifully landscaped, boasting hundreds of interesting trees and shrubs providing a rich backdrop and winning national awards. By the year 2000, SeaWorld Cleveland had grown to occupy 232 acres, but was restricted from adding roller coasters or water rides due to a non-compete clause with neighboring Geauga Lake.
SeaWorld Cleveland was followed by SeaWorld Orlando in 1973, and SeaWorld San Antonio in 1988. SeaWorld Abu Dhabi will be the fifth SeaWorld park built, scheduled to open in 2022.