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Magic Mountain to Open Water Park : Business: Fourteen-acre attraction will be dubbed Hurricane Harbor. Tourism officials hail move as vote of confidence in region.

September 09, 1994|DAVID WHARTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

VALENCIA — Six Flags Magic Mountain, which forged its reputation with a dizzying array of roller coasters, announced plans Thursday for an adjacent water park to open early next summer.

The new 14-acre park, to be called Six Flags Hurricane Harbor, will feature water slides and lagoons as well as restaurants and shops, set amid jungle-type foliage. It will charge a separate admission and, Six Flags officials hope, align the 23-year-old theme park with the newest industry trend--the two-day attraction.

"It offers something else to do, to keep people longer," said Harrison Price, an industry consultant. "A water park is a logical addition" because Magic Mountain's rides subject visitors to a very "active" experience, he said, "and it gets hot as hell up there."

The announcement did not note how much the additional park would cost, and Six Flags spokesmen would offer no estimate other than to say it would be a multimillion-dollar project.

Hurricane Harbor could draw as much as $45 million in tourist dollars annually and provide 250 seasonal jobs to an area that was hard hit by January's earthquake, they said.

Ironically, the earthquake acted as a catalyst for the project. Hurricane Harbor had been on the drawing board for almost 10 years and seemed likely to remain there in the wake of serious quake damage to the Santa Clarita Valley.

Although the park itself suffered relatively little damage, its customer lifeline--the Golden State Freeway--was severed. However, the freeway's timely repair paved the way for what park officials say will be record attendance this summer. Six Flags concluded that if the park could do so well in a year that included a natural disaster, it would do even better most other years, executives said.

"We were very impressed with how quickly the state acted," said Bob Pittman, chairman of Six Flags Entertainment, which operates theme parks in six other cities, including Atlanta, Chicago and Dallas. "We also saw that this area has gone through rapid growth in the last five years. There are new hotels, new businesses. We felt the time was right."

Hurricane Harbor will be constructed on the now mostly empty northwest corner of Magic Mountain's present grounds. When it is completed, the entire complex will be renamed Six Flags California.

As envisioned in architectural renderings, the new water park will draw guests along a path lined with lush greenery and into a village constructed to look as if it had been ravaged by hurricane winds. In fact, the dilapidated buildings will contain restaurants and swimwear changing rooms with lockers. From there, walkways will lead to a variety of rides:

* Three "speed slides" will descend from a 70-foot tower. There will also be 400-foot-long inner-tube slides.

* Rafts will carry guests across a giant wave pool.

* A slow-moving artificial river will encircle the center of the park, where a volcano will spew smoke and children can wade through shallow coves amid artificial sea serpents and a mock pirate ship.

Perhaps just as important, designers will take great pains to make guests feel enveloped in a tropical setting.

"In the past, people thought of us just for our scary roller coasters," Pittman said. "The water park gives us an additional layer."

Six Flags executives refer to this as the "fantasy component." Pittman, who joined Six Flags when it was purchased by Time Warner three years ago, was one of the creators of MTV and figures he knows something about fantasy.

"Six Flags has always had the best rides in the business," he said. "Where our competitors have been ahead of us is in the look."

As a first step in delivering the new, improved look, Magic Mountain has already surrounded its new Batman ride with a simulated Gotham City of grimy streets and run-down factories. The designer of that project, Kevin Barbee, will design Hurricane Harbor.

"Guests have gotten more sophisticated over the years and they expect more," Barbee said. "We have to create an entire illusion."

Construction on Hurricane Harbor has already begun. It will open with essentially the same goal that Universal Studios assigned to its CityWalk--to provide an attraction that is unique enough, and time-consuming enough, to bring guests back for a second day. Like Universal, Six Flags will sell two-day passes.

"There's a definite trend toward these destination attractions," said Deborah G. Enders, an industry analyst. "If you can get people to stay overnight, they spend a lot more money."

According to Pittman, Magic Mountain already brings $200 million to Southern California from outside the area each year. Tourism officials, shaken by the recent spate of riots, fires and temblors, were quick to hail the park's expansion as a vote of confidence.

"You're seeing a major theme park invest a significant amount of money in Southern California," said Gary Sherwin, a spokesman for the Los Angeles Convention & Visitors Bureau. "The real significance from our point of view is that, despite a lot of bad news here, there is a major entertainment company that sees the long-term growth potential in the marketplace."

In the nearby city of Santa Clarita, officials hope for a more tangible payoff, with visitors spending dollars at restaurants and hotels. After touring the Hurricane Harbor construction site Thursday, Mayor George Pederson decided that a water park would be the perfect addition.

"It was hot as hell there," Pederson said.

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