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JOE BEL BRUNO Staff Reporter

There's good news and bad news for Six Flags Magic Mountain this spring.

The good news is that the amusement park has a big new ride to lure thrill-seekers over the spring break. Usually, amusement parks don't debut new rides until it's almost summer.

The bad news is that "Superman: The Escape" was supposed to open last summer costing the Valencia amusement park untold revenues and a heap of embarassment when technical glitches kept the ride grounded.

Six Flags will not release how much it spent on marketing efforts to promote Superman, or its estimated dollar losses.

Whatever they were, industry analysts believe the park is now positioned to make them up.

"It has now become the most famous un-ride in the world," said Tim O'Brien, an editor with Nashville-based Amusement Business magazine. "This ride is going to blow the doors off the place."

Indeed, Magic Mountain officials say attendance records are expected to soar during the upcoming spring break. Those numbers could be a good indication of how the park will fare during the crowded summer tourist season.

"We haven't hit the peak summer season, but this past week's attendance was up significantly for this time of year," said Palmer Moody, a spokesman for Six Flags, a unit of Time Warner Inc. "And starting (last) weekend we've opened up the park on the weekends and we're expecting a tremendous turnout."

The new attraction opened March 15 and is touted as the world's first 100-m.p.h. thrill ride. Early reviews are positive.

"I've heard nothing but good comments about this ride people all over the nation, all over the world, are planning entire vacations around it," said O'Brien. "I think its delay just built up more and more anticipation for what has turned out to be a great ride."

The new ride's opening comes at a time when competition among local parks has become intense. Los Angeles County's two amusement parks Universal Studios Tour and Magic Mountain have been battling it out each summer season for tourist dollars.

Universal Studio's attendance last year hit about 5.4 million visitors, up from 4.7 million in 1995, according to Amusement Magazine, which tracks theme park attendance records around the nation.

The increase was attributed to the opening of its new attraction Jurassic Park.

Meanwhile, Magic Mountain which had no new attractions in 1995 and 1996 had about 3.4 million visitors each year.

In the business of amusement parks, a new attraction can increase attendance by more than 10 percent.

At Universal, the Jurassic Park ride proved a hit despite some operational problems. The park announced that its summer attendance in 1996 was up 35 percent over the previous year, to 2.5 million.

"We sympathize with Magic Mountain, that's a tough position to be in," said Eliot Sekuler, a spokesman for Universal. "New attractions help revitalize our parks and form the basis to our approach for all of our marketing outreaches. The ride will still bring in people for several years to come, so it's not just the summer."

Disneyland took a different marketing approach. Instead of touting a new attraction, it promoted one it was putting out of commission the Main Street Electrical Light Parade.

A Disneyland spokesman said attendance records during the 1996 season easily beat out the year before, when the theme park was promoting the new Indiana Jones ride.

"The way theme parks keep people coming back is by coming up with a new ride each summer," said Ray Braun, a senior vice president at Economics Research Associates, a West Los Angeles company that advises amusement park executives.

On Magic Mountain's new Superman attraction, riders are strapped into one of six cars linked together, which are propelled by large magnets that pass over electromagnetic elements placed along the tracks.

The passengers speed along a flat stretch of track, reaching a top speed of 100 mph before shooting up a 415-foot-high tower. At the top, the cars drop back down giving riders a momentary sense of weightlessness.

Braun said that, in a way, Magic Mountain might be in luck this summer: It will be the only local amusement park coming out with a major new attraction.

"Maybe the buzz from last year created even more anticipation," Braun said.

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