The trees are fuller, the rides are spiffier and the laughs have returned.
But as Gilroy Gardens reopens after being closed for more than a year, an iconic figure in the park’s two-decade history will no longer be seen frequenting the midways and interacting with guests.
Barb Granter, who has led Gilroy Gardens as vice president and general manager for 19 years, is leaving the park to take the helm of California’s Great America. She will begin her new position as the vice president and general manager of the Santa Clara theme park on June 1.
Succeeding Granter will be Hoa Minh Le, who has been at Gilroy Gardens since 2003, most recently serving as vice president of marketing and assistant general manager.
“It is a bittersweet moment to leave my Gilroy Gardens family, but I know everyone is in excellent hands with Hoa leading the way,” Granter said.
A native of Toronto, Granter began her nearly 40-year career in the theme park industry as a seasonal supervisor at Canada’s Wonderland. She joined the entertainment division at Canada’s Wonderland on a full-time basis in 1984 and later worked in operations.
In 2000, Granter moved to the United States to manage “Star Trek: The Experience” at the Las Vegas Hilton and to install CBS Television City at the MGM Grand.
Now an American citizen, she has spent the past 19 years at Gilroy Gardens, and has played a key role in the park’s growth as it celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
During Granter’s tenure, Gilroy Gardens added Water Oasis and its various water attractions, as well as events such as Holiday Lights, the Chinese lantern festival Lumination in 2016, and The Great Big Boo! Halloween event.
Granter said she will still live in Gilroy and visit the gardens frequently. She added that the move to Great America will be a return to her roots. That park is owned by Cedar Fair Entertainment of Ohio, which also owns Canada’s Wonderland.
“It’s like going home and leaving home,” she said.
Le takes over a park that has been hit hard by the Covid-19 closures. He is hopeful that California’s tourism economy will bounce back strong, driven by a pent-up demand from people stuck at home for the past year.
He said he’s also seeing a rise in “staycations,” where residents visit their local attractions after missing out on them for so long. Le added that he was encouraged by the strong turnout from Gilroy Gardens’ passholder preview weekend of May 15-16.
“I am thrilled to take on this new role and continue to lead one of the most dedicated teams in the industry,” Le said. “Michael Bonfante built a very special place for kids, and we have been delivering his dream for nearly two decades. My hope is that 20 years from now, this will still be a place where kids, nature, imagination and families all grow together. I am grateful to Barb for her mentorship over the past 14 years.”
Le, a native of San Jose, began his career as a food service associate at Great America in 1993, and was promoted to full-time manager of food and beverage in 1996. In 2003, he accepted the resale manager position at Gilroy Gardens. In 2007, he was promoted to director of marketing and sales for the park, and in 2012 became vice president of marketing and assistant general manager.
Le said the park will focus on Covid recovery this year and next, and turn its focus to growth in 2023. The City of Gilroy, which owns the land the park sits on as well as its assets, is currently evaluating two proposals from developers that would add various attractions to the surrounding property.
Gilroy Gardens will at last celebrate its 20th anniversary in 2021, after being forced to cancel its season in 2020 due to Covid-19 restrictions.
It opens for the season on May 22, with Water Oasis opening June 23. Public health orders limit capacity, and guests must make a reservation before visiting the park.
Granter said the park’s numerous trees enjoyed the year break, as nature further took over the park’s walkways and buildings.
“It’s very full, very lush,” she said.
Upon entering the park, guests are required to wear masks and take a brief wellness survey to confirm they have not experienced any Covid-19 symptoms. Guests are seated on rides based on family units, with at least one row of space separating households.
The outdoor environment is also conducive to public health guidelines, Granter noted.
“It’s a lovely, healthy outdoor environment,” she said.
The park will launch its 20th birthday celebration in mid-June. A colorful clubhouse stage has been constructed near the park’s entrance, which will feature daily live shows. Patios throughout the park will have different themes, such as Tea Party or Pirates.
A giant birthday card is also in the works, as well as other activities.
Le said Gilroy Gardens is currently hiring, and also has discounted season passes on sale up to Memorial Day. For information and reservations, visit gilroygardens.org.