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BATAVIA, OHIO -- A steel fabricating plant in southern Ohio is nearly finished building the 102 pieces of Cedar Point's new ride.

The 65 employees of Clermont Steel Fabricators at this one acre facility just east of Cincinnati have been laboring for months with incredible precision to create the tracks and supports that will become GateKeeper, a ride which will profoundly change the look of the amusement park.

Photos: GateKeeper construction at Cedar Point

"Wow!" exclaimed Matt Ouimet, President and CEO of Cedar Fair, parent company of Cedar Point, when he recently made his first ever visit to the factory, and invited WKYC alongfor the tour.

Ouimet, who has led the company for just over a year, was reacting initially to the sight of one ofthe two massive towers that will be centerpieces of Cedar Point's new entrance.

Riders on GateKeeper will actually fly through keyhole openings in the towers, a first for any ride of its kind in the world.

"The keyhole structure, that was tough," said Cedar Fair's VP of Planning and Design, Rob Decker, who dreamed up the idea of taking riders through an opening.

"That was a difficult one because we wanted to celebrate the moment of flying over the front gate at Cedar Point."

Decker and Ouimet quickly walked inside the keyhole cutout in one of the 62 ton towers, which was lying flat on the floor of the fabricating plant.

"Holy Cow!" Ouimet exclaimed, with the same wonderment he hopes park guests will share when they see GateKeeper for the first time.

"All right, we're going to into the keyhole. Not only did you see it, but you're in the middle of it," he said to his fellow visitors. "I'm standing in it. You're standing in the middle of the keyhole. Wow."

"I love this," Ouimet told WKYC. "I love the drama of it. And I love that fact that it's made in Ohio."

Plant managers pointed out how raw steel comes in the back of the factory, and in a matter of weeks, precisely shaped, welded, and finsihed pieces of GateKeeper emerge from the front. A number had just been painted shades of blue and were being hoisted onto flatbeds.

"What's fun to see is that we think of steel as this old line industry, but the amount of technology you and I saw in this plant tells you it's a new world," Ouimet said."And the new world creates this."

Decker was equally thrilled to see his imagination come to life.

"This is almost like a magic factory where it goes in as one idea and it comes out as a finished product," he beamed. "I hope it's an 'aha' moment because that is what we're building for."

"When you go to the big game and they do the flyover after the National Anthem and the hair stands up on the back of your neck, that's the effect I really wanted.

"You need a near-miss element. You need that illusion of danger when you think you're going to hit something, but we know you're not. But you don't know that because you've never been on the ride before," Decker proposed.

Back at the park, construction using pieces which have already arrived was at more than 40 percent. Cedar Point General Manager John Hildebrandt predicted no problem in meeting an opening day of May 11.

"We're in the business of building roller coasters," he stated."We love roller coasters. That's our heritage, our blood line. It's in our DNA and we think Gatekeeper is going to take its place along with Millennium Force and Top Thrill Dragster and Maverick and the whole pantheon of roller coasters at Cedar Point."

Ouimet talked about the challenge of keeping the amusement park the best in the world, and believes GateKeeper is evidence of that commitment.

"I like to say the gate opens on May 11th, and the number one thing it means is the next generation of memories at Cedar Point," Ouimet said, standing among the mostly completed pieces of GateKeeper at the fabricating plant.

"We all have those stories we grew up with.I call it genetic vacation behavior, so here we go again with something that you and I will hopefully be talking about 30 or 40 years from now."

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