Behold the magic of frenzied corporate acquisitions.
Premier Parks went on a shopping spree in the late 1990s that would be the envy of any fun-lover. Among the items: Elitsch Gardens Amusement Park in Denver, Waterworld USA parks in California and Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom in New York.
By the time the company gobbled up the Waliby Family Parks, with locations in France, Belgium and Holland, it was pretty clear to some analysts that things were getting out of hand.
Then in 1998, the Oklahoma City-based company acquired the Six Flags chain of parks for $1.9 billion and later took on the Six Flags name. Now it finds itself saddled with more than $2 billion in debt, and the company is up for sale in the middle of a proxy battle.
This week the company announced it will close the landmark Six Flags AstroWorld theme park in Houston at the end of this season. AstroWorld, a Houston institution since 1968, is the victim of rising land values that overshadow its worth as an entertainment venue. The site at Loop 610 and Kirby could become a mixed-use development, including multifamily housing, retail and offices.
UPDATE: Shoulda read Ken Hoffman before I posted this.
Here's why I think AstroWorld finally bit the dust.
A regular one-day ticket costs $42.99. That's a lot of money, but that's what theme parks are getting these days. Disney World charges $60 for a one-day pass. Sea World in San Antonio is $40.50.
But for the past several years, AstroWorld has been selling season passes for crazy low prices. You can buy them online for $59. I remember promotions where you could get them even cheaper.
That's when AstroWorld became an inexpensive day-care center. Each day, parents would drop off their kids in the morning, and pick them up on their way home from work. After a while, even a roller coaster is boring. The park was crowded with bored kids just hanging out.
Bored kids equals trouble. AstroWorld became an uncomfortable place for parents to bring young children.
In the theme park business, when you lose families, you go out of business.