No walk in the park

Larry Stottlemyer, who has made his family’s $11 million entertainment park a reality, says sacrifice and commitment are the keys to success

Friday, Aug. 25, 2006


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Dan Gross⁄The Gazette
‘‘Don’t get into something that you are not going to be committed to,” says Larry Stottlemyer, owner and CEO of Adventure Park USA in Frederick County. ‘‘The truth in business [is] no pain, no gain.”






Click here to enlarge this photo
Dan Gross⁄The Gazette
Larry Stottlemyer is installing a 45-foot roller coaster at Adventure Park USA sooner rather than later. ‘‘Some people said we should wait and put it in next year,” said Stottlemyer. ‘‘But it became available and my son wanted to do it and even though it might not be a great business decision, it’s a good family decision, to have your son in the business who wants some responsibility, wants to add something to the business.”

Adventure Park USA in Frederick County has a theme that harks back to the Wild West. The attractions include miniature golf courses at Dry Gulch and Thundering Falls, a Hang ’Em High ropes course, WestWorld laser tag and Horseless Carriage go-kart racetracks.

The real adventure has been owner Larry Stottlemyer’s journey to see his $11 million family entertainment investment become a reality. It’s been a voyage with numerous ups and downs, financing hurdles, personal hardship and bankruptcy.

And Stottlemyer, a Montgomery County native, still pushes ahead, with more to come to keep drawing the thousands from as far away as Baltimore and the Eastern Shore to the 13-acre park. A 45-foot roller coaster is being installed this year and a water park is in the works. And the city of New Market down the road likes the park’s prospects so much it’s planning to annex the property to add as much as $130,000 in taxes annually to the city’s coffers.


Click here to enlarge this photo
Dan Gross⁄The Gazette
‘‘Don’t get into something that you are not going to be committed to,” says Larry Stottlemyer, owner and CEO of Adventure Park USA in Frederick County. ‘‘The truth in business [is] no pain, no gain.”






Click here to enlarge this photo
Dan Gross⁄The Gazette
Larry Stottlemyer is installing a 45-foot roller coaster at Adventure Park USA sooner rather than later. ‘‘Some people said we should wait and put it in next year,” said Stottlemyer. ‘‘But it became available and my son wanted to do it and even though it might not be a great business decision, it’s a good family decision, to have your son in the business who wants some responsibility, wants to add something to the business.”

Larry Stottlemyer
Position: Owner⁄CEO Adventure Park USA, a 13-acre family entertainment center in Frederick County, with 55 employees year-round, up to 130 during peak summer season.
Education: Attended Montgomery College.
Residence: Myersville. Family: Wife, Angie; son, Erik, and wife, Lori; daughter, Stephanie, and husband, Kevin.
Hobbies: Grandchildren, woodworking.
But Stottlemyer cautions would-be entrepreneurs: ‘‘Don’t get into something that you are not going to be committed to. I have people tell me they’re going into business and they say, ‘My wife is going to do it and I’m going to keep doing my job, so if it doesn’t work out we won’t get hurt bad.’ I tell them, ‘Well, it’s not going to work out, because you can’t get hurt.’ The truth in business [is] no pain, no gain.”

The Business Gazette talked to Stottlemyer recently about his business career and Adventure Park USA.

You worked in the printing business before you started your own business, right?

Yes ... after I got married in ’65, I worked in the printing business in Rockville for 16 years. My dad was a plumber, a self-made man — he always worked for himself. He came up with the idea of putting a gas station on the waterfront to service the boats down at Seneca [in Montgomery County]. And then he started repairing motors and he did that in the summertime. He did his plumbing in the wintertime and my mother ran that business in summertime.

Well, I tried to follow in his footsteps and be a plumber, but he told me ‘‘No, you don’t want to be a plumber.”

So, I was working in the printing business and making good money. What happened was I used to ride by the Putt Putt golf course all the time and I played at that course when I was in high school. I drove by that golf course for 16 years and realized I didn’t like punching a clock, didn’t like someone else deciding my future for me.

So I started talking to the man who owned the course, and for about four years I talked to my wife about it and said, ‘‘That’s something I’d like to do,” and she said, ‘‘Where?” and I said, ‘‘Let’s look in Frederick.”

My wife said, ‘‘I know you hate your job. If you want to do it, do it now.” That’s all I needed and we just started from that point on.

This was about 1980?

Actually in ’78 we started looking, and we started thinking about it and started planning. We lost locations and couldn’t get leases, financing. We only had like $10,000. I borrowed from everybody I could borrow money from to eventually get [Putt Putt Golf & Games on Thomas Johnson Drive in Frederick] off the ground and worked out the financing.

To be perfectly honest, you look back and you say you don’t understand how it happened ... to see these miraculous things happen in your life.

It was Bank of America back then that helped us out, and we had an SBA loan, guaranteed, for $150,000. I thought that was all the money in the world. That was for construction. We financed the land separately, and we practically built that place ourselves, and paid a $10,000 franchise fee.

But this was in the early ’80s and interest rates just kept going up, into double digits. Our interest rate was a floating interest rate and it went up to 22 3⁄4 percent interest. We filed bankruptcy in 1983 and we were in bankruptcy for five years. We reorganized and worked our way out. We remodeled the building once, and did major renovations.

[During the bankruptcy] ... we lived on practically nothing. I took a second job, went back into the printing business for about six or seven months, eight months, to get us through the winter. That’s when I put in the batting cages. We’re in bankruptcy and I’m continuing to try and figure a way to grow the business.

You see, you’re down but you’re not out, and you find other ways to get the income in. So we were able to get an investor to help put in the batting cages. And then the arcade business went south, so I went out and started a pizza delivery business inside where the arcade was. Anything to help us survive. When the arcade business came back, we moved the pizza business out and brought the arcade back in. You had to do what had to be done.

What was the most you made there in a year?

About $700,000 ... I had 25, 28 employees then. We were making good money. We could have stayed there and made a very good living. Then my wife and I decided that we had reached our peak on Thomas Johnson Drive on an acre and a half. So we started looking around for a place to build this park, and it took us seven years to get where we are today.

We went from disappointment to, I guess, excitement ... to disappointment, to disappointment, to disappointment. I’ve been told by the banker who gave us this loan he is amazed to this day we built what we built, going through all the rejections and the turndowns that we went through.

What happened?

I found a bank to make the loan [to build the park], an $8 million loan, from Susquehanna Bankshares. The bank approved it, USDA was online [to guarantee the loan], and then USDA decided they had some concerns about the loan — after WE had already put in a half-million dollars into this project.

That was Christmas [2004] and we were devastated. I had nothing left; we were completely drained. My wife and I prayed a lot that night! The next day I got up and said, ‘‘This isn’t happening.” And I called the banker, and called my congressman, called the senators, anybody who could put pressure on the USDA. And they called, and said they had some concerns and we started working on them one at a time and we kept going until they had no reason to turn us down.

They discounted the equity that we had in the business so much, we had to come up with more money ourselves. The guarantee came down from 80 percent to 70 percent [causing Stottlemyer to come up with $2.5 million to make the deal], and that’s a lot of money. And we kept working and finally got it approved.

How did you think you could make it year-round, with the weather here in the winter?

Well, we had experience with Putt Putt that was open year-round. We have about 24,000 square feet, kind of an amusement park inside, to accommodate 3[00], 4[00], 500 people. And we do a lot of birthday parties ... we charge $15.50 a person. We book a birthday party every 15 minutes. We have five birthday party rooms, so that gives us 15 minutes in between each party, and we have room for expansion for other birthday party rooms, if we need to.

We plan on doing 3,000 to 4,000 birthday parties this year, not to mention groups, schools having grad parties, corporation outings and picnics. We have a pavilion that seats over 200 people. We were getting 2,500 to 3,000 people on a weekend [earlier this year]. We estimate we’ll have 350[,000] to 400,000 people this summer.

What is the admission?

There is no admission. Pay as you go. You pay for each attraction. You could come in, have your son ride the carousel for $2 ... you can do that and leave.

A lot of mothers come in here and pay $3 for their kids to come in here for soft play [children’s play area]. We have more video games and a bigger area for the kids to play in than Chuck E. Cheese. You market the largest base that you possibly can ... I market from 2 to 200, if they can get in here. We have something here for everybody. We have moon bounce, carousel, tea cup ride and we’re putting in a roller coaster, a family coaster.

You have investors in the business and that’s why you said you have a contract for yourself?

Yes, you have to feed the business first ... I have an employment contract and I told the lawyers I want a contract to show my investors I will not take more than ‘‘x” number of dollars. And I’m paying my managers more than I get paid ... so you know I’m not getting that much money. Now, there is a bonus, when we reach a certain income, but I can’t take that unless the bank approves it.

Are the investors getting paid yet?

I can’t discuss income, but I will say we have met our projections this year and expect to do better next year. The investors will get paid as soon as we start making a profit. And their investment will have to be paid back.

Now I got a lot of investors who are excited about this place and they don’t mind waiting. But it bothers me [waiting], I’m a very ethical person ... that’s why when we ran into trouble this winter I had two, three investors come up, and slap down $225,000 to get us through. You never know when you might have to go back to those people. That’s after they already put $300,000 in buying shares.

How many investors do you have?

We have about 12 — some of them have half a share. One individual has over $400,000 invested into the business.

But you know what’s exciting? Once in a while I’ll come here and I’ll look around and I get chills because this is exactly what I envisioned. Nothing happened here but for the grace of God. Everybody laughs at people who believe what I believe, but over the past 28 years, you don’t see it until you look back.