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Fresh Wild Waves on the horizon

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June 03, 2007

The new owners and operators of Wild Waves pledged Wednesday to local leaders that they will improve and expand attractions at the Federal Way water and amusement park.

Randy Drew, chief executive officer of Florida-based PARC Management, said Wild Waves will focus on what families and communities want.

With the park about to open for its 30th season June 9, Drew stressed he was keeping the local management team and would listen to its advice. Wild Waves employs about 1,000 seasonal workers.

“We really think that all parks are local parks,” Drew said. “We believe in a bottom-up management. We have plans to grow the park.”

First up, a revised name and $1.6 million in park improvements this summer, including a new family ride called Kanga Bounce and a new reader board along Interstate 5.

Then, a master plan this summer will lead to redeveloping and expanding attractions over the next five years, Drew said.

The first change is already done. Enchanted Village, the name for the original nine-ride park and petting zoo that opened in 1977, has been dropped from the title Wild Waves and Enchanted Village.

The new name is Wild Waves Theme Park. Drew said that’s more fitting for a park that’s grown to more than 50 rides, including a giant roller coaster.

In January, debt-ridden Six Flags Inc. announced the sale of Wild Waves and six other parks to PARC 7F-Operations Corp. of Jacksonville, Fla., for $312 million.

PARC resold the parks to a real estate investment company, CNL Income Properties of Orlando, Fla. CNL is leasing the properties back to PARC to run them.

Curtis Parks, chief operating officer, said in an interview that the deal was done this way to obtain the business while not taking on more debt. PARC leases Wild Waves’ land and attractions, he said.

Drew said PARC was formed specifically to run the seven Six Flags parks, each of which was making money.

He said he and Parks have dozens of years of experience working for companies that owned and operated theme parks.

“Our job is that of being responsible stewards to the families of our communities, to provide places where families can come for wholesome entertainment,” Drew said.

He was bullish about the future.

“It’s a great market,” he said. “It’s got a great location.”

He spoke to elected leaders including Federal Way Mayor Mike Park and King County Council member Pete von Reichbauer.

After a lunch Wednesday of barbecue ribs and corn-on-the-cob at Wild Waves, Federal Way City Councilwoman Linda Kochmar said Drew’s words went over well.

“It was wonderful hearing you say that you want to be part of the community and that you want to be the heart of the community,” Kochmar said. “That’s exactly the vision of the people who started this 30 years ago.”

It contrasts with what Drew described as the top-down style of New York-based Six Flags. His friendly demeanor was an even bigger change.

When Six Flags CEO Mark Shapiro visited Wild Waves in April 2006, he criticized some ways the 70-acre park was operated by its nearly 40 full-time employees.

He said Wild Waves wouldn’t get Six Flags’ full marketing treatment until it surpassed 1 million in annual attendance. Wild Waves General Manager Todd Suchan said that goal hasn’t been met.

The park’s season this year is starting later than the usual Memorial Day weekend opening. Suchan said that is due to schools getting out later because of makeup days for last winter’s storms.

While other new rides haven’t been determined, Drew said several changes are in the works to improve visitors’ experience.

He talked about adding areas to sit and eat and rearranging attractions. He also said some features might eventually open earlier in the year.

“Today would be a great water park day,” Drew said near an empty wading pond under clear skies. “We want it open.”

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