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The big boss says Enchanged Village-Waves must get better

By PHILIP PALERMO

The Mirror

For now, it’s business as usual at Enchanted Village and Wild Waves, but the new management for Six Flags Inc. will be keeping an eye on all its 29 parks in the coming months.

Chief executive officer Mark Shapiro, who took the reins for the company last December, said there will be no announcements this year regarding Enchanted Village-Wild Waves and whether the company plans to sell the Federal Way park.

Shapiro said Six Flags has hired an outside company to examine every park’s performance and will begin looking at the data at the end of the year.

“We’re going to have to evaluate the entire portfolio,” he said.

Six Flags has experienced significant change in the past few months, including an attempted takeover this past summer and a failed sale attempt in December.

While Enchanted Village-Wild Waves’ long-term future may be cloudy, Shapiro said during his first visit to it Monday that there are some good possibilities for the park.

“I think there’s great potential for this market,” he said.

Shapiro was in town as part of his effort to tour each of the company’s theme parks, spread across 15 states, Canada and Mexico.

His visit to Federal Way came as crews worked to prepare Enchanted Village-Wild Waves for its May 27 season-opening.

The former CEO of the investment firm Red Zone spent some time briefing park employees before taking a tour around the facility.

During his talk with employees, Shapiro stressed the value of a strong theme for a successful park.

“I love the parks for one reason: They take you away from the everyday,” he said.

He discussed the importance of park signs, something he described as a “major pet peeve.”

“I think our signage is terrible across the board,” he said, using examples of his experiences at other parks where signs were either missing or unhelpful to visitors.

Shapiro also said the company’s parks must upgrade their levels of technology, especially for processing sales transactions.

“We’re living in the dark ages. We need to get into the 21st century,” he said. “It doesn’t matter how much you think you know, you don’t know enough.”

As an example, Shapiro described a theme park in Oklahoma City where cash was being collected in shoe boxes, “like you’re at a garage sale.”

Despite his dissatisfaction with the company’s overall level of technology, Shapiro said he wasn’t trying to criticize Six Flags’ prior management.

“It’s so easy to trounce past management. I’m not about that,” he said, adding he’s been passed the torch to carry on the company.

In comparison to the company’s other theme parks, Shapiro said more needs to be done to Enchanted Village-Wild Waves to bring the park up to a similar level.

“I can’t tell you this park is in the shape of the Six Flags standard,” he told employees.

He also said improvement could be made by replacing aging, unpopular rides with newer ones or adding more live entertainment.

Adding new rides and attractions, he said, aren’t the key to long-term success, however. Six Flags will need to focus on enhancing the overall park experience to encourage families to keep coming back.

“Experience is long-lasting,” he said. “A ride is a quick fix.”

That statement may ring true at Enchanted Village-Wild Waves. Sales manager Gavin Groszir said the park’s Timberhawk wooden roller coaster, which opened in 2003, helped boost attendance initially, but its popularity has since leveled out.

“People come to see it,” he said, “but it’s not something they come back for.”

Shapiro also addressed The Walt Disney Company, Six Flags’ main competitor in the theme park field and who once employed him.

“We don’t have to be as good as Disney,” he said, adding Six Flags should aim to offer similar levels of quality at more affordable prices and in more convenient locations.

“Not everybody has the means, guys, to fly to Orlando or Anaheim,” he told park employees, referring to Disneyworld and Disneyland.

Shapiro, who previously worked as executive vice president at the Disney-owned sports network ESPN, said Six Flags should provide a better alternative than Disney, with more frequent visitors.

In his tour of Enchanted Village-Wild Waves, Shapiro made several suggestions about the general layout and asked the park’s director of administration, Kim Zier, about pricing. Among his suggestions were to offer paddle boat rides in the park’s lake free of charge in an effort to make them more popular and more attractive with visitors.

He also suggested using the park’s amphitheater area more often to draw live entertainment.

“You have a nice thing overlooking the water there,” he said, describing the amphitheater. “Take advantage of it.”

After a walk around the park, Shapiro reiterated that new rides aren’t enough to make Enchanted Village-Wild Waves more successful.

“Overall, we have to improve the experience,” he said. “It feels like there’s a lot that can be done.”

Staff writer Philip Palermo: 925-5565, ppalermo@fedwaymirror.com

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