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Six Flags CEO speaks out on Cedar Fair merger rumors, Kentucky Kingdom closure

Kentucky Kingdom entrance

Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro has emphatically denied rumors that the company is set to merge with Cedar Fair, while revealing that the company has agreed not to remove any rides from the closed Kentucky Kingdom park.

Shapiro said that there is "no truth whatsoever" in reports that Apollo Global Management is looking to follow up its proposed purchase of Cedar Fair with a move for arch-rival Six Flags. Claiming that no discussions have taken place with Apollo regarding a potential deal, Shapiro pointed out that Apollo has yet to complete its buy-out of Cedar Fair - with a shareholder vote set for April 8.

The comments came on a call with "superfans" of Six Flags parks on Monday night. Speaking candidly, the Six Flags boss expressed his admiration for Apollo's track record in the amusement industry. He also lauded Cedar Fair CEO Dick Kinzel's management of the chain, but insisted that Six Flags is focussed on emerging from its ongoing bankruptcy proceedings as a stronger company.

Shapiro also addressed the ongoing situation at the Kentucky Kingdom park, which was closed in February after Six Flags failed to agree revised terms on its lease with the Kentucky State Fair Board. The Fair Board has since started legal proceedings against Six Flags, aiming to prevent it from removing the park's rides - even going as far as to claim ownership of any rides on state property. However, Shapiro says that Six Flags have agreed not to remove the rides while the Fair Board searches for a new operator for the park. This suggests that the rides may be sold along with Six Flags-owned land to enable Kentucky Kingdom to continue to operate under new ownership.

Despite concerns that the harsh winter has delayed construction of the new Thomas Town expansion at Six Flags America, Shapiro insisted that the child-friendly area will open in time for the Memorial Day weekend (May 29). Six Flags America has so far refused to be drawn on Thomas Town's official opening date. Shapiro also revealed that Six Flags hopes to add a new rollercoaster to the park "within the next couple of years".

Shapiro also revealed that the Hurricane Harbor water parks at Six Flags Magic Mountain and Six Flags New England will both receive a new children's water play area known as Mr Six's Splash Island for 2010. Meanwhile, Six Flags Great Adventure's Hurricane Harbor will receive a version of the Tornado water slide as seen at several of the chain's other locations.

Responding to a question relating to the lack of "4-D" movies seen at Six Flags parks, Shapiro claimed that the company is developing the world's first "5-D" attraction. However, he declined to give any further details on where and when the attraction will open.

Shapiro claims that the low-cost season passes launched by the company this year have resulted in increased sales, although he didn't reveal an end-date for the offers. The cheapest deals are listed in Theme Park Tourist's Special Offer Watch.

Looking forward to the company's exit from bankruptcy, Shapiro claimed that the chain's 50th anniversary next year will be a "celebration" of its future. Referring to criticism of the lack of theming in many of Six Flags' parks, Shapiro pledged that the company would invest strategically in developing distinct themed areas in every park. He blamed the company's financial problems for forcing its previous management into spending their meagre capital reserves on new attractions - though he also promised to continue to add new rides to draw in visitors.

Some of those rides may be based on licensed characters, with Shapiro expressing his satisfaction with the performance of rides based on movies such as The Dark Knight, Superman Returns and Terminator Salvation. Revealing that Six Flags turned down a proposal from Warner Bros. to base a ride on the $120 million flop Speed Racer, Shapiro stressed the need to carefully select the right themes for its rides. He pointed to the upcoming Batman and Superman sequels along with Justice League as potential future licenses, although the company hopes to move beyond comic book characters into new areas.

Over 70 fans attended the Six Flags "fan call", which was part of the company's ongoing attempts to embrace social media. The call's organisers have described it as very successful and there is a possibility of further fan calls in the future.


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