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Hey, want a free roller coaster? Wait… no?

Kenny Malone Apr 1, 2013

Hey, want a free roller coaster? Wait… no?

Kenny Malone Apr 1, 2013

It’s not easy to give away a roller coaster.

That is the lesson so far from an attempt to donate Florida’s largest wooden coaster to charity.

The Dania Beach Hurricane opened in 2000 and quickly became a South Florida icon, thanks to its auspicious location on the side of I-95. But the privately funded, stand-alone coaster fell victim to the Great Recession and a drop in ridership.

Since April 2011, the bankrupt Hurricane has sat abandoned. Now it needs to come down by the end of May to meet a development deadline.

Attorney Allyson Goodwin has been representing the Hurricane’s investors from the very beginning. She climbs more than 100 feet to the top of the coaster’s first hill.

“Oh my gosh,” says Goodwin, “I hadn’t realized how high this is.”

She looks out over a jungle of lumber that’s been bleached and worn by the Florida weather.

“The idea that it’s coming down,” Goodwin says, “and it’s actually going to go rot somewhere, is just such a waste. It just — it actually makes me sick to my stomach to think about it to be honest.”

So last November, Goodwin and the investors announced an effort to donate the Dania Beach Hurricane to charity.  The bolts, the lumber, the steel tracks, the cars — everything.

The theory, according to Goodwin, is that with the right charity, the donation could be a “win-win-win-win.”

Goodwin’s investors would get the massive tax write-off. A generous construction company could donate to take the thing apart and also get a massive tax write-off. The abandoned coaster — a monstrous beacon of failure — would no longer be the most visible highway advertisement for the City of Dania Beach. And some lucky charity would wind up with tons of steel to scrap and hundreds of thousands of board feet of lumber to use.

“In theory, yes,” says Perry Ecton, Executive Director for Habitat for Humanity of Broward County.

Habitat for Humanity seemed like one of the most obvious fits for the donation. They need wood. They have construction experience.

Ecton certainly considered the donation, but the problem was taking the coaster down: The vast majority of Habitat’s workers are community volunteers.

“I’m thinking of an OSHA safety crew coming through,” says Ecton, “and you’ve got your local school teacher or lawyer hanging with harnesses upside down. It scared me more than it was worth.”

As it turns out, sometimes you need to look the gift horse in the mouth. Strange donations are part and parcel to being a non-profit. Whether or not you take those donations is (sometimes literally) the million dollar question.

The Boston Foundation, for example, has been offered everything from a trove of coins to a share in a cruise ship.

“And most interestingly,” says Kate Guedj, vice president for philanthropic and donor services, “a pile of pottery.”

The Boston Foundation was given hundreds of pieces of pottery from Brother Thomas, whose work sells for thousands of dollars. 

It’s a great donation, but takes some thinking through: You need insurance, a gallery to sell the things and storage, long-term storage. By selling off everything at once, The Boston Foundation would have flooded the high-end pottery market. So to maximize the donation down the road, the foundation had to front the storage costs at the time.

“You have to be able to handle that and think long term,” says Guedj “and not need to convert the materials to cash right away to fund your operations.”

With the pottery and the cruise ship, if there’s a foundation that can handle a wooden roller coaster, it would be The Boston Foundation.  Right? 

“Uh, no,” says Guedj to the offer, “I don’t think so.  Thanks.”

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