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Six Flags, Inc. seeks options for Wild Waves-Enchanted Village

By PHILIP PALERMO

The Mirror

The roller coaster ride continues at Wild Waves-Enchanted Village.

The seasonal amusement park was among six properties Six Flags, Inc. may sell in the near future.

In a June 22 press release, the company said options for the six locations include selling the parks, dismantling rides or attractions or selling the land.

The next day, King County Council Member Pete von Reichbauer issued his own press release announcing a task force to try and save the park.

“While I am extremely disappointed by this decision, I hope through the formation of this task force we can save this site, continue to provide hundreds of local jobs, and preserve this significant tax base as a destination resort,” said von Reichbauer.

Six Flags, Inc. took over the park in 2000. Since then, several major rides and attractions have been added, including the Timberhawk wooden roller coaster and Zooma Falls.

Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro, who took over the position this past December, toured Wild Waves-Enchanted Village in April as part of his survey of the company’s parks.

During his visit, Shapiro said there was potential in the park, but said there was work to be done.

At the time, Shapiro said any announcements regarding the sale of Wild Waves-Enchanted Village would wait until the end of the year.

Shapiro’s visit also included a talk with park employees, where he fielded several questions. One employee asked whether Six Flags would become part of the official Wild Waves name.

Shapiro said, compared to the company’s other parks, more would need to be done to bring Wild Waves-Enchanted Village to the Six Flags standard.

Indeed, of the six parks mentioned in the June 22 press release, Wild Waves-Enchanted Village is the only park without the Six Flags name attached.

Since March, the company has been busy selling the land at its Houston theme park, selling the assets of its Columbus, Ohio water park, exercising the right to terminate its lease of a Sacramento water park and considering bids on two Oklahoma City parks.

As of June 18, revenue at all Six Flags parks were down 1 percent compared to last year, the press release stated. While spending per capita spending was up 14 percent, approximately 1.3 million fewer people have passed through the turnstiles at Six Flags’ 30 parks.

Shapiro said the drop in attendance was partly due to the drop off in season pass sales as the company tries to refocus on families, rather than “teens who don’t spend money in the park.”

“What has been unexpected thus far is that the families we are targeting to replace those teens have been harder to attract than anticipated,” Shapiro said in the press release. “Make no mistake about it, families are coming back...but not as quickly as we had hoped.”

The day after the Six Flags announced its plans, investors responded and shares of the company’s stock lost more than 25 percent of their value, from $7.45 a share on June 22 to $5.55 a share on June 23.

Todd Suchan, General Manager at Wild Waves-Enchanted Village, said so far residents have been more shocked and surprised than employees at the news.

“They were always up front,” Suchan said, describing Six Flags’ attitude toward the park.

“They were forthright in letting us know, ‘Hey this could be a possibility down the line,’” Suchan said.

Suchan, whose 20 years at the park spans three different owners, said he conducted a small staff meeting after the Six Flags announcement.

He said he reminded employees a sale may or may not happen, and even if it did happen, it could take several months to finalize a deal.

“We’re just kind of business-as-usual,” he said.

Suchan also said he’s tried to quash rumors that the park would close, something he said is not the case.

So far this year, Suchan said business at the park has been down, mainly due to weather.

“On the weekends, we thought we’d get a break, but we got a lot of rain,” he said. “That put us behind the eight ball a little bit.”

With schools out for the summer, Suchan said the park really gets going around the Fourth of July holiday.

Deputy Mayor Jim Ferrell said the city is keeping an eye on the future of Wild Waves-Enchanted Village.

“Absolutely we are concerned. Enchanted Parks is a real gem in the community,” he said. “It really is one of the drivers to bring people into the community.”

No matter who ends up owning the park in the future, Ferrell said he hopes the city can provide a good business environment for them.

Ferrell said city budget discussions in 2004 included talks of an admissions tax that would have affected the park and movie theaters in the city.

The tax, he said, likely would have cost the park $350,000 to $400,000. In the end, the admissions tax idea was delayed out of concern it would be harmful to the park.

With the city council discussing the 2007 - 2008 budget, Ferrell said he hopes an admission tax doesn’t again creep into the discussion.

“We do not want an admission tax as part of the budget cycle,” he said.

As of June 26, Suchan said he hadn’t been contacted by von Reichbauer’s office regarding the task force, adding he expected to hear from him soon.

“Pete’s been a great friend of the park,” Suchan said. “He’s always had the park in his best interest.”

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