News that Six Flags Inc. plans to put Six Flags Magic Mountain in the Santa Clarita Valley up for sale for a possible conversion into real estate development was not met Friday with an enthusiastic response from the valley's leading developer.
A spokeswoman for Newhall Land & Farming, which developed the community of Valencia, said it was too early for the company to assume an official position on the proposal, but noted that the amusement park was a big draw for the area.
"Magic Mountain itself is a great tourism opportunity for Santa Clarita Valley and it employs a lot of people up here," said Marlee Laufer, a spokeswoman for Newhall Land, which is owned by Lennar Corp. and LNR Property Corp. in a joint venture.
In effort to reduce its $2.1 billion debt, New York-based Six Flags announced Thursday that is considering selling or closing six of its properties, including the Valencia theme park and its adjacent Hurricane Harbor water park.
Six Flags Magic Mountain is not the company's flagship park, but the 35-year-old site has 17 roller coasters, more than any other amusement park in the world, according to the company.
The other properties under consideration for sale are Six Flags Waterworld in Concord; Six Flags Darien Lake outside Buffalo, N.Y.; Six Flags Elitch Gardens in Denver; Wild Waves and Enchanted Village outside Seattle; and Six Flags Splashtown in Houston.
Six Flags spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg said Friday that the company wants to sell the parks within one or two years but will operate as planned through the rest of this summer season. Six Flags also is still considering its "strategic options," including selling the park but staying on as the operator
The company cited lackluster crowds at the company's parks as part of the problem, with attendance at Six Flags parks dropping by as much as 1.3 million through June 18, a 13 percent decline from a year earlier. However, Amusement Business, a trade industry magazine, reported that attendance at Magic Mountain park hit 2.8 million in 2005, up 5 percent compared to the previous year.
If Six Flags, the world's largest regional theme park company, is unable to find an industry buyer for Magic Mountain and the adjacent Hurricane Harbor water park, the 262-acre Los Angeles area attraction potentially could be converted to developable residential land.
Six Flags chief executive Mark Shapiro said the company wants more than $500 million for the sales, which would help the company pay down some $2.1 billion in debt. But any development proposal would have to undergo a lengthy approval process in an area where Newhall Land has seen its own proposals held up by environmental groups.
Moreover, the park is on unincorporated county land and is zoned for commercial/recreational use. Any change would require approval from the County planning commission and the Board of Supervisors. Though the land abuts the City of Santa Clarita, it is not within the city's sphere of influence.
The proposal to sell the parks stems from a bitter proxy battle that resulted in Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder winning control of Six Flags last year and bringing in new management, including former ESPN exec Mark Shapiro who has made major changes in how the parks are run.
The company is now seeking to operate more family friendly parks, while the Santa Clarita park is seen as an "extreme" thrill ride park that tends to attract rowdy teenagers.
"We're making progress with our strategy to focus on the growth of our strongest assets, reduce the company's debt, and generate increased value for our shareholders," Shapiro said on Thursday.
Since March, the company has sold off or announced the sale of properties in Texas, Ohio, Oklahoma, Illinois, Missouri, and has exercised the right to terminate the lease of its Sacramento water park after the 2006 season.
Wall Street was not reacting well the announcement. The New York Stock Exchange issue saw its shares drop $1.90, or 25.5 percent, to close Friday at $5.55.
Staff reporter Deborah Crowe contributed to this story.
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