ALTAVILLA VICENTINA, ITALY — Alberto Zamperla sweeps through the cavernous workshop here where his amusement rides are made while workers measure and bang and solder enormous platforms, oddly shaped beams and assorted fiberglass vehicles.
Spring is a busy time for his company, and attractions are being prepared for the summer season that is about to open in theme parks around the world.
This year, however, one destination has Mr. Zamperla racing against the clock: Coney Island in New York City, where in a few weeks he will present a new amusement park featuring 22 rides, including the Tickler, a family-oriented roller coaster; the whirly Mega Disko; and Air Race, a heart-gulping aerobatic experience.
Coney Island is the largest investment yet in the 50-year history of Zamperla Group. Zamperla is the majority shareholder of Central Amusement International, or C.A.I., a New Jersey company that signed an agreement in February with the city of New York to build and manage the amusement area. C.A.I. has spent $15 million on the refurbishment of the park, about half of the $30 million it expects to invest.
“Ride manufacturers have been operating rides in parks or fairgrounds for many years,” said Andreas Veilstrup Andersen, executive director of the European office of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions. “However, a project as big as Coney Island is very unusual.”
Time has been tight, with the park’s opening set for the end of May.
“We had a pretty good idea of what we could produce on time,” said Mr. Zamperla, the chief executive. “There’s a lot of pressure, because all eyes are on us. Things just can’t be good, they have to be perfect.”
Luigi De Vita, managing director of the company, added: “When we’re under pressure, we give the best of ourselves.”
Theme parks and amusement parks have a global lure, with about 758 million visitors worldwide in 2007, according to the latest study from PricewaterhouseCoopers on the outlook for entertainment and media. Worldwide revenue in 2007 was $24 billion, the study said.
Zamperla, according to industry experts, is ranked among the top five manufacturers of amusement park rides.
The Coney Island project will be called Luna Park, after the original playground that stood there until World War II. Drawings for the new main gate on Surf Avenue meticulously mimic the original design, albeit in a flashier revamp.
The park at Coney Island “had its glory but lacked an innovative spirit,” Mr. Zamperla said of a site that in recent decades had become a little down at heel. In February, C.A.I. won the bid on a 10-year lease to build and operate the park, which sits on a city-owned lot.
“Their specific proposal was a nice blend of honoring the history of Coney Island, while developing it as a modern 21st-century amusement park,” said Seth W. Pinsky, president of the New York City Economic Development Corp.
Zamperla was chosen because it had a sound track record in operating amusement parks, including the Victorian Gardens, a children’s amusement area in Central Park in New York. And it was known as the producer of “some of the most exciting rides in the world,” Mr. Pinksy said.
The Zamperla family has been building amusement park attractions at Altavilla Vicentina since the early 1960s.
Alberto’s grandfather, Umberto Zamperla, opened one of the first movie houses in Italy, then moved into carnival attractions. His father, Antonio Zamperla, worked in traveling shows before deciding to settle in this Veneto town to start inventing and manufacturing rides.
Alberto Zamperla, 58, the eldest of five children, took the show on the road, so to speak, and there are now factories or sales offices in several countries, including the United States, China, Russia and Dubai. His group sells to customers in more than 90 countries and now exports about 95 percent of its products.
There are about 185 employees in Italy, with an additional 270 around the world.
The nuts and bolts of the business — its administration as well as its main manufacturing activities — are at the headquarters near Vicenza, an industrial district that is the third-largest exporting center in Italy, according to the local chamber of commerce. The area produces goods including gold, textiles and furniture.
Carmine Tripodi, who teaches strategic and entrepreneurial management at Bocconi University in Milan, said Zamperla was representative of Veneto’s fertile manufacturing tradition only “up to a certain point,” as it had taken the leap into the international market. “That is not so common,” Mr. Tripodi said, “and one of the great challenges is the measure by which these businesses are able to be protagonists in other markets.”
A stroll though the headquarters at Altavilla Vicentina hints at the complexity of producing amusement park rides for the world’s major theme parks, including various Disney Parks (“In our business, it’s the best reference you can have,” Mr. Zamperla said), Six Flags theme parks and malls worldwide. Even the late Michael Jackson’s Neverland estate has Zamperla rides.
On average, the company spends about €1 million, or $1.33 million, a year designing new products. Attractions are designed using complicated computer algorithms and mathematical models and then built and tested here. Zamperla has dozens of patents on items like merry-go-round decorations and roller coaster seats.
“This is where ideas are born,” Mr. Zamperla beamed as he looked at the Moto Coaster, a ride being prepared for a dinosaur theme park in Changzhou, China. Each ride requires about a year from design to delivery, he said, and can cost anywhere from €20,000 to €6 million. The Moto Coaster sells for €3.5 million and will be one of the new attractions at Coney Island next year.
Safety, and compliance with international standards, is an obvious priority. Accidents are rare, but they do happen, and Zamperla has not been spared. “You build as safely as you possibly can — the laws regulating amusement rides are more severe than for automobiles,” Mr. Zamperla said.
The global economic turmoil has been felt in the amusement ride industry, though in 2009 the effects were felt less in Europe than in other parts of the world, said Mr. Andersen, of the amusement park association. Last year, about 4.5 million people visited amusement parks in Europe.
“There’s money to spend on investments,” Mr. Andersen said, which makes him optimistic about the industry’s future. “It’s a resilient business that has proven it can reinvent itself over the last 80 and 90 years, and I am confident it will continue to do so,” he said.
Demand is growing in new markets, too, especially in the Middle and Far East. Zamperla has a factory and sales offices in Suzhou, China, to serve the fast-growing Chinese market. “We’re not going to make the mistake of underestimating the Chinese,” he said.
The factory in China produces about €4 million worth of rides for the Chinese market. He exports about the same amount from Italy to China and hopes to reach €20 million in sales in two years.
And in well-established markets like the United States, long-term success in the amusement ride industry depends on novelty, Mr. Andersen said.
This year, for example, Coney Island will see the debut of Air Race, an airborne experience that the company describes as “the ultimate thrill ride,” alongside more placid family fare. Next year, new rides are expected in the Scream Zone, an addition to the park that will feature several Zamperla roller coasters intended mostly for teenagers.
“In the end, all we want to do is build rides that people will enjoy,” Mr. Zamperla said. And Coney Island, he said, “will be the perfect showcase” for the company.