Something caught Mark Shapiro’s eye Monday as he strolled the 65-acre grounds of the Wild Waves and Enchanted Village amusement park in Federal Way.
There, alongside the asphalt path that funnels people around the park’s muddy lagoon, was a Canada goose guarding a clutch of eggs in its nest.
Shapiro stopped to look.
“That’s awesome,” he said. “That’s symbolic of the future.”
Shapiro, the new chief executive of Six Flags Inc., envisions a future where his corporation’s 29 North America theme parks – Wild Waves included – are less hangouts for thrill-seeking teens and more havens for families looking for an all-day “escape” from the hectic pace of modern life.
To that end, the company will be spending less on big-ticket rides in the coming years and more on what Shapiro calls “software,” including costumed characters, entertainment and other things he hopes will attract parents with young kids back to his company’s parks.
“You can’t imagine the traction we’re getting just from having parades again,” he said. “Experience is long-lasting. A ride is a quick fix.”
Wild Waves already plans to add several “characters” to its lineup this summer, said Todd Suchan, the park’s general manager. They include a princess who will read stories to kids and the “wacky tourist,” who will entertain people waiting in lines, Suchan said.
Shapiro, who made a name for himself as a hard-charging young executive at ESPN, stopped in Federal Way as part of a barnstorming tour of the Six Flags properties, which extend from coast to coast.
In addition to touring the grounds, Shapiro – who took over the reins of Six Flags in December – met with the park’s 40 or so permanent, full-time employees.
Combining a carnival barker’s enthusiasm with a Fortune 500 leader’s eye toward the bottom line, he gave his spiel then took questions.
His answers were often candid – he told one of the park’s artists he didn’t care much for caricatures – and his goals ambitious.
Wild Waves, he said, won’t get the full Six Flags marketing treatment – called “branding” – until the park surpasses 1 million in annual attendance.
“We can’t do it on 600,000; 700,000; 800,000 people,” Shapiro told Wild Waves workers. “This is Seattle. There isn’t another theme park within eyesight.”
Then he embarked on his walking tour, where he suggested the park make its paddle-boat rides free since they aren’t making much money anyway and peppered Wild Waves’ managers about why they aren’t making better use of a deck area that overlooks the lagoon.
That spot would be perfect for outdoor concerts, even if it’s just high school bands, Shapiro said.
Suchan, who has worked at Wild Waves for more than 20 years, said he was excited about Shapiro’s ideas to make the park more lively and family friendly.
“That’s been lacking,” he said. “You try to hit a home run every time, but sometimes you just need to get a man on base.”
2006 season: May 27-Sept. 4; Fright Fest on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in October.
Admission: 48 inches and taller, $34.99 (including tax); under 48 inches, $29.99 (including tax); children 2 and younger, free; season passes, $84.99 (before July 4) and $109.99 (after July 4)
Bus parking: $15
Web site: www.sixflags.com