It’s been a soggy summer, but Six Flags Over Georgia executives think the key to the future is more water.
The Cobb County theme park known for roller coasters will soon break ground on a seven-acre water park — the first step in what a Six Flags official calls a multi-year “transformation” of one of metro Atlanta’s most popular attractions.
The project comes as attendance at major theme parks is growing and represents a bet on consumers’ renewed willingness spend on vacations and outings. It also reflects the perennial quest of theme parks to stay fresh.
Six Flags aims to open the first phase of the new attraction, to be called Hurricane Harbor, by next Memorial Day weekend.
It will be the biggest project in the Six Flags chain of regional parks in 2014, said Dale Kaetzel, president of Six Flags Over Georgia and the company’s other local attraction, the White Water park in Marietta. The project also will be the single biggest addition to the 250-acre campus along I-20 since the Goliath “hypercoaster” was built in 2006.
“We feel like we have the best thrill park in the Southeast, and what we’re trying to do is counter balance that with just a day of complete relaxation and getting away from it all within the park,” Kaetzel said.
Hurricane Harbor plans call for a Caribbean theme with a restaurant, cabanas and a market surrounded by tropical landscaping. Central features will be an 800,000-gallon wave pool, a 5-story slide for four riders on a tube called Calypso Cobra, and a more family-oriented, four-story slide. The project will incorporate the existing Skull Island children’s water playground.
Kaetzel declined to disclose the project’s cost, describing it only in the millions of dollars. Access to the water park will be included in the price of admission to Six Flags.
The new attraction will replace the Southern Star Amphitheater, a 10,000-seat concert venue that has played host to big names such as The Beach Boys, Willie Nelson and Kool & The Gang. The amphitheater, which recently presented its final concert with a Christian music tour, will be torn down.
In general, theme parks performed well in 2012, despite economic hiccups, and analysts have predicted 2013 to follow suit. Though Kaetzel declined to release attendance data, he said metro Atlanta’s wet summer didn’t scare away guests, putting 2013 on pace to be Six Flags Over Georgia’s best year since Goliath debuted in 2006.
The Georgia parks’ publicly-traded part-owner, Six Flags Entertainment, reported a 1 percent improvement in attendance for the first six months of this year across all parks nationwide, compared to the same period in 2012.
Though the strange summer weather dampened the performances generally at parks in the east and midwest, the company said in its second quarter earnings report that operating revenue was up 2 percent in that time as guest spending increased.
The company also is generating about 1 percent more revenue per guest across all its parks. It does not report separate results for each park.
Renovations and new rides are annual rituals for theme parks, including Six Flags, said Mark Newton, director of the hotel, restaurant and tourism management program at Gwinnett Technical College. Staying relevant to children and coaxing them with rides they’ve not experienced are musts to earning repeat business.
“The last thing you want to do in a theme park is to be known as stale,” Newton said.
Consumers cut back on theme park visits during the recession and slow recovery, he said. But the picture has improved the past few years.
Global attendance for major parks grew 5.7 percent in 2012 vs. 2011, according to the Themed Entertainment Association, with U.S. attendance up 3.6 percent.
David Mandt, a spokesman with the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions in Alexandria, Va., said there are about 400 theme parks in the U.S., and about 200 new rides or attractions opened at about 80 parks this year.
Kaetzel said the Cobb park surveys more than 30,000 customers each year, and attendees have asked for a water park and rides that parents can take with children.
He said he is not concerned that the new water attraction could compete with the 52-acre White Water, which is about 20 miles away. He said the company will aggressively market both parks as it gears up for 2014.
The Hurricane Harbor name is a Six Flags brand used on water attractions inside several traditional theme parks and also at standalone water parks in some cities.
Tearing down the Southern Star Amphitheater won’t stop Six Flags from holding concerts. The park plans to use a parking lot on its east side for touring music festivals and other events.
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