Six Flags Astroworld
1968 - 2005

The Final Days Of Astroworld

 

It was like being punched in the stomach when I got the word that Astroworld would be closing forever.  Even through its problems I always thought in my heart that Astroworld would be eternal, a place I could always count on to spend some time with friends and family and do one of my favorite things, ride roller coasters.  I had grown up with Astroworld, I had worked for the park and I thought what we had would be here forever.

 

Once the announcement was made, all my weekend plans changed.  I wanted to spend every possible moment at the park I loved so much.  This meant missing an event and canceling plans with family but I was determined to make the most out of it.  This turned out to be a blessing as Zach and myself ended up in the front seat of Greased Lightning’s one millionth launch.

 

Those last weekends were bittersweet.  The park was filled to capacity while the employee ranks had shrunk on the news of the closing.  The employees who stayed were terrific.  There were long lines for everything, the rides, food, even the bathrooms!  Traffic was backed up for blocks with cars trying to get into the parking lot.  It seemed that everyone in Houston wanted to say their good-byes to Astroworld.

 

The last weekend finally arrived with news that there would be no tickets sold at the park.  Despite that measure, both Saturday and Sunday were as crowded as the park had ever been.  The operations department did a wonderful job keeping the rides open with a depleted staff.  Even Thunder River and the Astroway were open on Saturday after being closed for all of October.

 

The employees were terrific despite knowing that they would be out of work in a matter of hours.  One employee told of passing her drivers test for Greased Lightning, so she could dispatch the ride at least once before leaving.  Another employee, James Parker, hired in for the last day.  It did not matter to him that it had been 20 years since he had worked at the park.  He was happy to spend the last day sweeping the grounds.  I talked him into letting my son Zach take over for awhile.  I had always hoped that Zach would work at the park some day.  Since this would not happen, I am glad Zach got a broom and dust pan and swept in from of Greased Lightning, as I did my first day of work in 1981.

 

The guests were seen taking pictures of everything.  It looked like the biggest ACE convention ever held.  Parents were bringing their kids to the park one last time.  Old Employees from every decade of Astroworld’s 38 year history were evident.  Gangs of Supervisors roamed the park telling stories and remembering the park where they had worked.  Everywhere you looked, you could see how much Astroworld meant to everyone.

 

ACE made its presence known also with several informal take over sessions of various rides.  All the coasters were ridden at some point.  Groups formed and split apart just to rejoin later.   

The last weekend the park was open was an emotional rollercoaster.  The Texas Cyclone, showing its contempt of the situation valleyed, leaving only one train operation.  We all just wanted to remember every sight, every smell and every sound the park offered.  So we all took pictures, ate funnel cake and rode every ride we could.  We savored everything knowing it would be the last time.  I  spent the last 2 days with all sorts of people including my Sister Carol, who had worked in the park and had inspired me to work there, to Larry Harvey, my Excalibur Foreman from 1982 and his family. 

 

On Sunday, the time went by all too quickly.  The informal take-over sessions were over and the park was closing.  Graciously, Astroworld management had arranged for ACE to take the last public rides on the Texas Cyclone.  As the park closed, the line was cut off and we entered through that great big mouth for the queue of the Cyclone one last time.  This was one time I wanted the line to move slowly but all to fast, we were at the station.  While in line, brand new graffiti was there, but it all said Farwell to Astroworld and not the usual junk.

 

That last ride on the Texas Cyclone was all to short.  We were laughing and crying and we hit those great drops and experienced those laterals that the Cyclone is famous for.  As we hit the post turn, I lost it.  I had been riding the Texas Cyclone since I was 11 years old.  I had ridden it with my father, and I had ridden it with my son.  I had so many rides that I knew the ride by heart and my heart was breaking as we finished the ride and cruised into the station.  There were more rides for Ace and finally the Employees who deserved that last ride but I had my last ride.  I found my son crying in front of the huge fountain in Coney Island and I joined him for a few minutes.  Then Dawn, Zach and I walked out of the park together, just the three of us.  I couldn’t believe how good the park looked.  There was no trash anywhere, quite an accomplishment after a crowded day.  We saw James still happily sweeping, enjoying is one day of work for this season to the fullest.

 

Main Street was empty with just a few stragglers and employees taking it all in.  We reached the gate, Zach rang the bell one last time that signifies a Great Day, I turned around and took one last picture and we walked out of the park together for the last time.

 

The last picture

Texas Cyclone October 30, 2005

If you look above you can see the entire history of the park.....

 

Astroworld,

The Early Years.........

The Alpine Sleigh Ride.

The Alpine Sleigh ride was a one of a kind coaster that ran on concrete that took the sleighs through tunnels, explosions, and a blast of cold air. 

A terrific article written for D.A.F.E (Dark Ride and Fun House Enthusiast)

Opening Year

         

         

   

    

The River of No Return....

         

        

         

Earlier Days....

                   

                            

                One of the shortest lived coasters in the South Region was The Swamp Buggy, a Chance Toboggan that opened in 1973.  Three years prior Astroworld had opened Fun Island, a real Island that could be traversed over several bridges, including the popular floating bridge that would rock and forth as kids (and adults) jumped up and down attempting to make the bridge rock back and forth.  The Wacky Shack opened up that year and was an early crowd favorite as Astroworld gave the public their unique version of the tilted house.  Astroworld turned its attention to its first new themed area, The County Fair and the roller coaster Dexter Freebish Electric Roller Ride.

Judge Hofienz, never a leader to rest on his accomplishments wanted to add another coaster in 1973 to follow up Dexter.  In 1971 he had purchased a trailer mounted Rotor and opened it as Barrel of Fun, maybe he thought he could find a similar roller coaster ride.  His search led him to Chance and the Toboggan.  This was a unique ride, a very portable coaster that was unique in a lot of ways.  First, it has individual two seat cars that were enclosed.   Second, it had a vertical lift hill, and last hit had a unique spiral shaped track.

Not one to settle for normalness, the Judge had the Swamp Buggy as it was now called elaborately themed to look like a tree.  The cars climb up the middle of the trunk and the circle down through the branches.  At the lowest level the track would make a longer piece of track with sharp turns over the water of the Astroworld lagoon below.

The ride was a huge success, and there were always lines for it.  The sharp turns over the water always led to urban tales of horror.  It became another badge of courage to ride the Swamp Buggy.  It also became a badge to keep the ride running as it was prone to frequent shutdowns.

1975 led to some big changes for Astroworld.  Six Flags leased Astroworld and started managing the park, and the Swamp Buggy was removed before the season started leaving a two year legacy of thrilling riders and frustrating the maintenance department.  (When another Vertical lift coaster came to Astroworld, big changes were made, but that’s another Lost Coaster story)

I remember riding the Swamp Buggy with my Dad many times those two years.  You would sit on your seats, and the entire top of the car would swing down on top of you leaving a small window to look out of.  The car would roll forward and the transition from horizontal to vertical was abrupt.  It would be instantly dark with bright sky only visible out of the top of the trunk.  All the weight would be on your back as you were pulled up the lift, every rollback clanking loudly in that enclosed space.  The climb would take forever and that bright circle of sky would get bigger and bigger until the top was reached, the car would roll upright and tilt to the left as you circled around the tree.  At the bottom, the rhythm created by the circular motion was broken by an ingenious piece of straight track that went straight out over the water with two vicious 90 degree turns that finally led to the station.

 

The Swamp Buggy was never replaced until Fun Island was removed to make way for Viper.  The Swamp Buggy stood where the first drop on the Viper was located.

The Swamp Buggy might have had the shortest stays at Astroworld, but those of us who rode it, will always remember it.

 

My First Day at Work! April, 1981  This was a staged picture created by the yearbook staff when they came along and found me  with my banana yellow name tag and had another worker point like he was telling me to do something.  Banana Tags were signs of being a brand new employee, later you would get a black tag, foreman's wore read tags and supervisors wore blue.  I managed to wear all four colors.....

I still remember this day as I was so excited to be at work at Astroworld.

 

    

Above is where I spent many hours setting up the nightly fireworks show

 

These guys set the standard for being an employee at the park. The work they did influenced the park throughout it's life.

A unique look at the River of No Return with the boat floating past the dock where boats were stored.

Texas Cyclone

                 

                     

The Texas Cyclone’s 29 year history has been documented from its opening day, reprofiling, changing of trains, incidents and its tragic destruction very well, but the details of how this magnificent ride came to life have been obscured by the ride itself.  The story is a fascinating one, with twists and turns and one event that very nearly stopped the project in its tracks.  Recently ACE has come into possession some of the documents that detail the trials and tribulations creating a legend, The Texas Cyclone.

 In the Early 70’s, Bill Crandall (General Manager of Astroworld under the corporation of The Great Southwest) heard the story of how the condemned Coney Island Cyclone was going to be demolished.  A move being pushed for by its neighbors, The New York Aquarium and Developers.  Bill Crandall saw opportunity with this situation.  Bring the Coney Island Cyclone to Astroworld.

            As the project was researched a couple of things became clear.  First the Coney Island Cyclone would be virtually impossible to move.   Astroland had given up on saving the Cyclone and were considering letting it be demolished and they would install an Arrow Corkscrew across the street where the bumper cars were.  The Albert’s had four ideas they were trying to execute.

Buy the Cyclone and move it to their property.

Form a coalition of Ride operators  in Coney Island to lease and run the Cyclone on a non-profit basis

Get the Aquarium to pay the $127,000.00 needed to repair the ride

Get the city of New York to pass a resolution that the City should not own or operate an Amusement attraction.

 

Bill Crandall's interests in the Cyclone changed everything.  It gave the Albert’s the leverage it needed to secure a lease and funding to operate the Cyclone. 

            Undeterred, Bill Crandall decided to build his own version of this classic ride.  The ride was measured, photographed and documented extensively.  This data was given to the legendary coaster designer Bill Cobb who designed a mirror image that was slightly larger than the original.

            So the plans were in place and in the summer of 1975, guests riding the train at Astroworld wondered about all these concrete pilings springing up on the Northwest side of the park

             The plans called for a completely new themed area, Coney Island, the area would consist of the Texas Cyclone, a flat ride (The black Dragon would be moved from Oriental Corner and named Razmataz), a shooting gallery, a snack stand and a Theater called the “Bubble” as it would be structure held up by being inflated by air.

Construction of the lumber for the Texas Cyclone began on December 12, 1975.  The building went smoothly as documents indicate a steady supply of Douglas Fur lumber was being delivered as expected.  The coasters South bend was completed first and excitement started to grow as Astroworld’s new coaster, then being referred to as Astrocoaster, started to change the skyline.

Then at 2:30 in the afternoon on Wednesday, January 7, 1976 disaster struck.  High winds toppled the incomplete North Bend of the structure.  Fortunately no one was hurt in the accident but disaster control was needed immediately.    Meeting notes discuss much excitement and confusion at first but Bill Crandall took charge.  Clean up began immediately, but the damage was done Bents 17 through 32 were destroyed in the collapse.  They would need to be completely replaced.  Bill Cobb in a letter to Mr. Crandall urged that every piece be replaced and nothing be salvaged from the destroyed section.

            Building continued on the South Bend and then workers started replacing the broken section.  The north bend which had been under construction for 5 weeks was replaced in 2 and ½ weeks, a real achievement by the construction company Frontier Construction.  This still left the construction almost 8 weeks behind schedule.  Despite the best efforts of everyone involved the April opening would be put off until June.

In the investigation it was determined that the High winds were the mail culprit, citing the fact the winds were recorded at Hobby Airport at 25 to 30 miles per hour.  Internal notes state that the structure was supported in a temporary fashion to trees and nearby railroad ties.  Insurance ended up paying about $50,000 which looks to more than adequately cover the loss by Astroworld in materials and man hours.

            Evidently this matter was an insurance nightmare and documents show that primary insurance coverage, while covering the accident was cancelled a week later.  Engineers had determined that actual construction did not meet the construction needs determined by the policy as a “A” Frame was not used.  Paper work on subsequent insurance is missing from these files but evidently more than one insurance company was needed after the accident.

            To keep the public’s interest up, a model of the Cyclone was built and shown in several shopping malls.  A name the coaster contest was formulated and I can even remember the tree topping ceremony shown on all the local news stations as a pretty young female hostess waved an American Flag from the top of the lift.

            Construction was completed for a cost of 1,143,345 however and the coaster opened to rave reviews on Friday, June 11, 1975.  George Plimton was invited to open the coaster and elaborate parties were thrown n the “Burger King Air Theater.  A number of dignitaries were invited including Bill Cobb,  Robert Cartmell the managers from a number of theme parks, Astronauts, Judge Hoffienz, his son the Mayor Fred Hoffienz and the “Who’s Who of the Houston social Scene.  Every local radio and TV Station was there along with newspapers and network television Coverage.

            Mark Brown was on hand to perform his magic show and the new Burger King Airena Theater. 

            History shows us what happened from that point; a new Number 1 rollercoaster was born.

The coaster was so popular reservations were needed to ride.  Hand stamps with designated ride times were needed just to get in line. Astroworld was the first park to use a virtual queuing system!

So Bill Crandall’s dream was realized, and a new generation of wood coasters were born based on the past.  Today, numerous Cyclone copies grace parks around the country, but none were like the Texas Cyclone.

 

Texas Tornado

 

                   

 

 

Batman: The Escape

   

Greezed Lightnin

                  

             

On October 15, 2005  I was fortunate enough to get to ride on the 1,000,000 launch of Greased Lightning. This milestone event just snuck up and I want to thank Astroworld for inviting me to ride. Riding on the train were a collection of media, a ton of long time employees and few others I didn't know.

Somehow, Zach and I ended up on the first seat of the train. (Thanks Chuck!)

The cameras rolled and off we went on a very special ride. As we took off, all I could think of was all those lap bars checked, all those "All Clears" spoken and the many times the dispatch button was pressed by so many employees.

We went through the loop and I watched the Astrodome rotate as we navigated the loop. Then we rolled to a stop and did it all again backwards. As we flew through the station backwards, cheering guest threw streamers and confetti. Then up the spike where my breath is always taken away and into the station for the final stop.

What a neat experience. It really made me realize how much history we had in the park. One Million launches....I am glad it happened at Astroworld and nowhere else.


 

UltraTwister

                   

The Ultratwister at Astroworld was probably the most unique rollercoaster in North America.  While a few models were in use in Japan, the Ultratwister was the only model of its kind in the United States.  Opening in 1986 at Great Adventure, The Ultratwister opened with its characteristic 90 degree lift followed by a 87 degree drop, an airtime hill, a heart line roll while going forward followed by the transfer section of track.  The ride then rolled backwards, through two heart line rolls and into the station.  Due to the nature of the ride, the cars arrived in the station from the front rolling backwards and were dispatched from the rear of the station the same way. Loading was done from a conveyer belt that ran alongside the track in the station so the cars never stopped moving.   Ultratwister had a neat linear look to it with the track surrounded by rings giving the ride an appearance of something out of the future.

                The ride survived in Great Adventure for 2 years and was plagued by maintenance issues and downtime.  One huge issue for management was the lack of ability to evacuate guests from the lift and it is rumored that quite a few Six Flags senior management staff were stranded when a shutdown occurred.  A decision had to be made and Six Flags decided to keep the ride but have TOGO modify the lift to 45 degrees to allow a staircase to be placed along the lift.  This changed the length of the ride as the track coming out of the station had to be expanded to meet the lift.

                Also decided was send to the ride to Astroworld, where the maintenance department had shown over and over again that they could perform miracles.  In 1990 the ride opened to enthusiastic reviews and huge lines as the new lift and Astroworld’s maintenance department proved the ride could run reliably with minimum down time.

                The Ride was located behind the old Alpine Sleighs and ran along the railroad tracks to the Texas Cyclone.  The installation required the removal of the unused tracks for the then closed Alpine Sleigh ride, though the Mountain itself was visible from the Ultratwister until the last ride was run in 2005.

 

  The employee entrance was affected as well and a new entrance was created that took the employees under the ride as they entered the park

                The ride was a huge hit.  Ultratwister Plaza opened behind the carousel and Alpine Astroway with a Gift shop named Twist and Shop.  People would just stop and stare at the Ultratwister, amazed a rollercoaster could pull off such maneuvers.

                Ultratwister was a favorite of park guests for  15 years, with its high thrill factor and even higher throughput, the ride was a huge success.  Without Ultratwister, we would not have the phrase “Moving Conveyer, Please Watch your Step” implanted into our heads. 

                I was working at Astroworld in 1990 when the ride opened.  Working in Operations, I had been assigned to work on Bamboo Chute until the Fireworks show started for the summer  and I spent my Spring helping to get the ride opened and cleaned up all the while watching Ultratwister be assembled and tested.  On the day the ride opened, one of the area Supervisors sent me over to Ultratwister to help out.  As I moved through the park quickly to the new ride, my pride and ego swelled at the thought that a new ride could not open without me part of it.  This feeling was quickly removed when I learned my task was to make sure nobody squeezed through the fence surrounding the ride.  It seems the bars of the fence were a spaced a little too far apart, a situation that was quickly fixed within a few days.  I did however get my first ride on Ultratwister.  No other first ride on a coaster has affected me so much.  The foreman of the ride waved me up to the station and handed me a front row seat.  I quickly lowered the very heavy Over the Shoulder Restraint and secured it anxious for my first ride.  We rolled silently backwards to the turntable, where we were rotated 45 degrees and started the up the lift.  I was greeted by the loudest anti-rollbacks I had ever experienced and while trying to ignore the noise we crested the lift and looked straight down.  My stomach leapt up like never before.  I couldn’t breathe we were dropping straight down and then up over one of the most insane airtime hills I have ever experienced.  The rest of the ride, the barrel roles, the transfer and backwards rolls were almost missed as I savored that first section of Ultratwister.  I will never forget that feeling and to be honest, I always thought the section of the ride with the heart line rolls were secondary.

                My love affair with the ride was emphasized later in the year as I took part in a commercial for the ride for 1990’s Fright Nights.  I rode Ultratwister about 50 times that night and was rewarded by seeing myself on TV more time than I could count that fall.  In later years I would see the footage as part of different commercials and it was always fun to see.

                In the late 90’s I was asked to participate in a Discovery Channel Program that would feature Ultratwister in a show called Extreme Rides, a follow up to the successful Wild Rides.

I got my last ride in on October 30, 2005, the day the park closed.  It was my next to last coaster only followed by the Texas Cyclone.  It was very sad to ride that day, looking over at the Mountain that had served so many purposes as the Alpine Sleigh Ride, Discovery Mountain and finally the Bat cave.  As we slowly rolled backwards I could still see a remnant from the Alpine Sleigh rides “Echo Tunnel!  Yell Something!”

                The first drop delivered its thrill as always and all too soon the ride was over.

I walked around the sight of the ride during demolition and the condition was not good.  It did not seem likely that it would ever be used again but there was hope as the ride was being shipped to Six Flags America.

Unfortunately at this point it seems our fears are realized and the ride will be scrapped, never to be ridden again.  It’s unfortunate in this age of clones and more clones being built that such a unique ride would be thrown away but Ultratwister was a hard ride to maintain.  All parts were ordered from TOGO, the Japanese firm and even when Premier rides took over North America distribution for TOGO, they just ordered parts when needed.  I believe only two cars were running on closing day as the rest had been cannibalized in the Herculean task of keeping the ride open.

 

Viper   

              

As another part of Six Flags “Relocation” effort came into fruition, Astroworld inherited a Schwartzkopf Looping Star from Six Flags St. Louis.  Operating at the St. Louis park as Jet Scream from 1981 to 1988, it was decided that due to its compact structure, this 1942 foot, single loop coaster could fit nicely into Astroworld’s line up.

Renamed Viper, the coaster would sit where Fun Island and part of the lagoon were occupied.  Runaway Rickshaws were moved to Nottingham and the queue house for Rickshaws was to be used for Viper.   The top of the lift sat above where the Swamp Buggy had thrilled patrons in past years.

Astroworld, always ready to make a used, sorry, a relocated ride better decided to add a tunnel to the first drop.  Painted dark green with a serpent painted on the side, this tunnel added a new dimension to the ride as it hid the curving drop from riders until the train blasted into the open air and straight into the single loop.

After the loop, the trains navigated an ultra-smooth course of a figure eight, with overbanked turns  and actually passed directly over the station.  With only ratcheting lap bars and no over the shoulder restraints, this ride was fun, exciting AND comfortable.

Viper was the second Schwartzkopf coaster at Astroworld, with Greased Lightnin being the first.  Taz Texas Tornadoes brief stay at Astroworld made Astroworld the only park in the US with three Schwartzkopf Coasters.  Sitting in Oriental Corner it was possible to see all three Schwartzkopf coasters in action.

Viper, as thrilling as it was could also be described as a family coaster.  At only 80 feet high and with a single loop, most everyone could enjoy this ride and was many Houstonians first looping coaster considered to be a little bit tamer than the Shuttle Loop, Greased Lightin.

When running 2 trains, Viper was capable of pushing 1700 people per hour through the ride so Viper was a real line eater.  Even on the most busy days, when Viper ran 2 trains the line would seldom be over 15 minutes, offering rides to everyone in the park.

As with all the Looping Stars, Viper had a unique lift system where the train would actually couple itself to the lift while in the station, making the trip up the lift smooth and fast.

Despite Vipers wonderful design and thrilling ride, it did not survive the closure of Astroworld and was sold for scrap along with The Serpent and XLR8.

So with such an untimely end that the Viper did not deserve, this incredible rollercoaster joined the ranks of the Lost Coasters of the South Central Region.

 

Personal Thoughts:

 

Viper was added while I was overseas in the Army so I was thrilled to see it on my first visit back to Astroworld.  Even as I lamented the loss of Fun Island, I was impressed with the location of the ride as a great coaster with a smallish footprint was placed in the center of the park.  The first drop was amazing, especially in the back seat with an incredible pop of airtime as the train plunged through the tunnel.

Viper was my son’s, my nephews and lots of other kids first looping rollercoaster.  A great introduction to steel coasters with an inversion that was not too intimidating, yet fun and smooth.  The ride itself was very fast and never let up from the time it came off the lift hill until it hit the brakes at the end of the ride.  With several very good pops of airtime throughout the course, the ride was exciting and always popular with guests.  There were times when I would take my lunch hour from my job in the Galleria area just for a ride on the Viper as I knew it was the one ride that I could count on getting in quickly enough that I could get back to work without being late.

 

Serpent

             

 

Serial Thriller

              

Dungeon Drop

       

Swat

    

Wagon Wheel, Warp 2000, Looping Starship, Astroway, Runaway Rickshaws & Gunslinger

                            

 

XLR8

                   

In the spring of 1984, Astroworld took a chance with Arrow to design and build a suspended rollercoaster.  The only previous modern attempt to build such a coaster had ended in failure when “the Bat” at Kings Island was removed due to structural problems.  With these problems solved, mostly due to added banking of the turns, Astroworld commissioned Arrow to build XLR8.

XLr8 was 3000 feet long, with a maximum height of 81 feet.  Containing two lifts, the ride had a maximum speed of 35 mph.  This coaster was built as a family ride and proof that the concept could work.  At the same time, Arrow was commissioned to take over the Big Bad Wolf coaster after Anton Schwarzkopf’s company went out of business.  The concrete was already poured in Williamsburg, so Arrow had no choice in the lay-out; they just built the coaster using lessons learned from designing XLR8.

XlR8 opened to great fanfare the spring of 1984.  With a huge marketing campaign, and such novelties as XLR8tion, a group of break dancers, the ride was very popular with families, even if it did leave thrill seekers wanting.  The ride was fun, but not extreme.  Arrow saw this and learned and most (if not all) future suspended projects were terrain coasters.  This was an effective tool to make the suspended coaster better as seen with Ninja and Top Gun.

Originally designed to rotate out of Houston after a few years as part of the “Ride Relocation Program”, XLR8 never had a permanent queue house or station built.  A tent like structure was built over the station (And almost burned down by fireworks, prompting the practice if soaking it down before each show).  The ride was painted blue and grey until the 2004 season when it was changed to a vibrant yellow and blue.

 

XLR8 had another huge, not so great affect on the park.  In building the coaster, the River Of No Return was modified with much of its theming destroyed.  Welder’s torches caused a fire that destroyed the beloved King Kong that was part of the ride.  XLR8 Plaza was created where Children’s World was located.  This removed the Barnyard petting zoo and such rides as Rub a Dub Dub.  Children’s world was moved to the European Village where the Alpine Sleighs was closed to make room.  No other coaster in Astroworld History changed the park (or some would say destroy the park) as much as XLR8.

In 2002, the last 4 cars of the train were turned backwards (8RLX) for Fright Fest and ran the ride in that configuration full time in 2004 and 2005.

 

Xlr8 became a coaster that Astroworld was “stuck” with.  No other park wanted it as part of the relocation efforts.  There was talk of replacing the ride with a wooden coaster, but time ran out on that project.

So the first successful suspended coaster in modern times was left at Astroworld until the end, and even when the park closed, no other park wanted it and the ride was sold for scrap.

 

While we might remember XlR8 for the wrong reasons, we need to remember that it was a monumental achievement, proving that the concept could work.  (And how it could work better)  This can be seen in parks all over the country.

 

Bamboo Chute (Ozarka Splash)

                        

 

Street Scenes

                         

                             

 

For more information including a timeline and video's please visit

www.sixflagshouston.com                 

Front Seat View of the Texas Cyclone hosted on Meta Cafe

"While we continually review our properties in order to determine the best allocation of resources, it is important to note that a unique set of circumstances applies to the AstroWorld property and this action should not be considered indicative of our intentions for any of our other parks," Burke said in a release.

Six Flags said it considered the park's performance in the past several years as well as issues over offsite parking rights related to Reliant Stadium and the Houston Livestock Show & Rodeo.

Six Flags Press Release September 12, 2005

 

1 Why was Astroworld closed?

  A real estate company in Oklahoma City took over a park called Frontier City.  The real estate company quickly realized that running theme parks was a lot more fun than buying and selling real estate and and became Premier parks.  Premier parks hired some ex-Six Flags execs and went on a buying spree, purchasing small to medium sized parks around the country.  Six Flags had become a real mess with Time Warner buying the chain trying to compete with Disney.

  In 1997, Investors that owned Six Flags Over Texas (Which is not owned by Six Flags, just managed by them a unique situation to Six Flags Over Texas and Six Flags Over Georgia.)   were not happy with Time Warner's investments in Six Flags over Texas and approached Premier Parks to Manage Six Flags Over Texas.  Time Warner had to scramble to make the investors happy and moved capital investments from other parks to Dallas. (Mr. Freeze was suppose to be installed at Astroworld next to the Texas Cyclone and that is why an empty Car Dealership sat next to the Texas Cyclone that was used for Fright Nights.)  Premier Parks then approached Six Flags and offered to buy the entire chain.  Time Warner was willing to sell the chain as they had acquired quite a bit of debt when they had purchased Six Flags and branding the Six Flags Chain with Warner Brothers Characters did not transform Six Flags into Disney. Premier borrowed a ton of money to buy the Six Flags chains.  Premier parks then became Six Flags. A few years went by, the debt grew and a lot of questionable investments were made that made Kieran Burke, the CEO of Six Flags  desperate. Premier bought Sea World Ohio, several parks in Europe, a park in Mexico and re-branded many of their parks to the Six Flags Brand. The park in Ohio, a combination of Sea World and Geuaga Lake was sold to Cedar Fair at an Incredible loss after millions of dollars were invested.  The parks in Europe were sold for a huge loss.  At the same time, a deal was made to manage Jazzland, which was a struggling park that was destroyed by Katrina.  He had the stockholders breathing down his neck and had to do something. Six Flags was in debt for 2 to 3 BILLION dollars. Burke thought the could make over 100 million of the sale of the property. So he decided to sell the property Astroworld sits on, telling everyone that the value of the land was far greater than the value of the park itself. Contrary to what Burke said, Astroworld was VERY profitable.  Based on the fact he entertained no other offers, it is my belief that he had deal in place to sell the land before the announcement. Since the demo of Waterworld started pretty much immediately after the announcement, I think he had a very aggressive timetable to meet to clear the land.

Other than that, there really is no good reason. Burke was so desperate to keep control of Six Flags, he thought any infusion of cash would make the stockholders happy. He proceeded to put the chain up for sale, another desperate move. He then LIED to the stockholders saying he was getting offers when in fact we found out that was not true. This actually hurt the chain even more as the accounting books were made public to anyone who expressed interest in buying Six Flags.  Of course other park chains looked at the books and laughed at the fiasco that Six Flags had become.

Burke was a pathetic man, a poor leader and had no business running Six Flags. He did more damage to the company than any of the previous owners combined. Burke quickly accumulated more than 2 BILLION dollars in debt making very poor business decisions such as signing a long term lease for Jazzland, Sea World Ohio and purchasing rides the chain could not afford. So looking at those facts, is it hard to believe he could screw up so bad he costs us our park that we loved?   Like Bud Adams (owner of the Houston Oilers and later the Titans when he moved the team to Nashville),  Burke screwed over the city of Houston and Harris county, tuning their backs on the very people who had supported them for many years.  Despite the fact the little to no investments were made to Astroworld, the park was the 7th most profitable park Six Flags owned.

 Burke was removed by the Stockholders and walked away with Millions of dollars that was paid to him to go away. Now in place is Mark Shapiro who seems much more qualified to run Six Flags. Shapiro has a team in place that is made of the best (Well, shown to be very average but still better than Burke...)   in the business (but they sure do like charging for lockers....)  so hopefully an occurrence like this will not happen again.  (We hoped, but it is happening again with Kentucky Kingdom, which Six Flags is walking away from and taking their rides with them.) 

With Six Flags clearing only 57 million dollars that only paid for three new rides to open in different parks the year after Six Flags closed Astroworld.   The selling of Astroworld paid for rides in California, Georgia and Canada.  Three rollercoaster's.  That's it.


2. Why didn’t the City or County do anything?

Who is to say they didn’t? No matter what their hands were tied. This was a Private real estate deal that did not involve Public Land.



3. What was the deal with parking?

Parking was an issue, but I have been informed that a deal could have been very easily worked out. A deal was almost complete that was very generous when Burke pulled the plug on negotiations and decided to sue the County.

4. If the City can spend money on X Y or Z, why couldn’t they save the park?

The City and the County spend money on public projects. Now that’s not to say that given time they wouldn’t have been able to but to raise 100 million, but bonds would have had to been issued and a referendum would have to have been passed. This could not have been done in the short window of time between the announcement of the sale and the demolition. That assumes that Burke would have been willing to sell, which I don't think he would have.

5. Why were Eminent Domain Laws not used?

Eminent Domain laws are very specific in what the can and can not be used for. They do not apply to this situation.


6. Why didn’t the city or county pass an injunction to stop this?

No Laws were being broken, there was no legal basis to issue an injunction


7. IF the City of New York could Save the Coney Island Cyclone, why couldn’t the Texas Cyclone be saved?

The Coney Island Cyclone was owned by the City of New York, In fact they still own it and lease it to Astroland.
The coaster was condemned in 1969 and scheduled for demolition but a grass roots movement stepped in and the coaster was saved to re-open in 1975,
So that is the key difference between our cyclone and the one in Coney Island.
The ride was already owned by the city, the land is owned by the city and despite that, it still took 6 years to save.
In contrast, the Texas Cyclone was not owned by the city of Houston, the land was not owned by the city of Houston and we sure did not have 6 months much less 6 years.

8. What will happen to the land?

Update! The land has been sold for 77 million dollars and demolition costs came to 20 million for a total amount of 57 millions, far less than Burke had predicted!

One thing seems clear.  Whatever Burke had in mind did not work out.  It looks like Burke  closed Astroworld for no good reason other than try to save his own skin.  The rest of Six Flags parks are open and making money.  Meanwhile, The property Astroworld just sits there with nothing happening.  Even 5 years later, this "priceless land" still sits empty with a bridge to nowhere over Interstate 610.

Update 2012

The land is still not being used for a variety of reasons. 

1. The economy 
2. The land never was and will never will be worth what was paid for it (The 77million dollar price) It will be very difficult to to get any kind of return on investment on any development on the property. There are already 1/2 empty industrial parks in the area. There is no need to build more. 
3. Residential? There is no way that any kind of high end residential will work at this time. The location is terrible for any kind of upscale development in the form of condo's, yuppie stacks or high end apartments. 
There is already a glut of low end housing in the area. 

Mixed use? More like Mixed failure for the reasons above. 

So with the elimination of Industrial or residential development that leaves entertainment. 

With the Reliant Stadium across the street another tourist draw would make a lot of sense. An amusement park would work very well on that property as it is easy to get to and has very high visibility. It is adjacent to Metro Rail making it an easy destination. It would create a ton of seasonal jobs for teens that are struggling to find jobs these days. There is a HUGE parking lot across the street that is only used 10 days out of the year for football, 4 weeks for the rodeo and a handful of other events. I am sure logistics could be worked out that would bring in more revenue to the county. (Maybe use it to bring the dome up to speed?) 

Oh wait, that's right, the land is much to valuable for such nonsense. A vacant lot works so much better.

But what a ride we had.......

The people (Snyder and Shapiro) who wrestled Six Flags away from Burke and guided the chain through Bankruptcy have been removed!

Honestly, Six Flags is not a company I even recognize any more.  Some things they are doing better but the operations are rather "lacking" at the parks.

Six Flags Over Texas seems to be the exception but only because Six Flags does not own the Flagship park!  Six Flags Over Texas is owned by a group of Dallas area investors who pay Six Flags to manage the park!

Staffing is a joke, Slow lines for rides and food, and general laziness seem to be the norm with a few individual exceptions.  The parks look cleaner but at an amusement park the rubber meets the road where guests interact with employees, and while some of the employees are really good, their efforts go to waste because staffing around them is a joke. 

 

Six Flags, you want to be a better chain?

Lower parking costs and add that to the gate price.

Raise the cost of Season Passes.

Get rid of the lockers that cost a dollar at each coaster.

RUN THE RIDES AT CAPACITY! 

Staff for the crowds, NOBODY gets Saturday off!

Little things count!

Nobody likes to be nickeled and dimed.

Make the Guests happy.

Let the Park Managers run the parks.  They are there, they know what they need, the Six Flags corp. needs to quit micro-managing the parks.

And lastly, please don't shut any more parks down....