Company sells Wild Waves in 7-park deal

NEW YORK - Theme-park operator Six Flags Inc., which has been struggling with falling attendance and a large debt load, said Thursday it will sell seven of its 30 North American parks, including one in Western Washington, for $312 million.

Shares of Six Flags gained 47 cents, or 8.66 percent, to close at $5.90 on the New York Stock Exchange.

The sale comes after a management shakeup at Six Flags in recent years. Mark Shapiro, a former executive at ESPN, became chief executive of the company in December 2005 following a proxy fight led by investor and Washington Redskins owner Daniel Snyder that resulted in the ouster of former CEO Keirian Burke and other executives.

Debt reduction plan

The company said the sale is part of its strategy to reduce debt and enhance its operational and financial flexibility. Six Flags had total long-term debt of $2.1 billion as of Sept. 3, 2006, when it filed its most recent quarterly report

The sale should allow Six Flags to pay down some of its high-

interest debt and possibly refinance all of its debt at more favorable terms, according to Friedman Billings Ramsey analyst David Marsh.

Six Flags spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg said the company is not actively looking to sell any more parks.

Combined with the June 2006 sale of land underlying its Houston AstroWorld theme park for $77 million, the sale will result in proceeds of $352 million to be used for debt reduction, according to the company.

New owners

The parks are being bought by Jacksonville, Fla.-based park operator PARC 7F-Operations Corp., but PARC will simultaneously sell them to Orlando-based real-estate investment trust CNL Income Properties Inc. CNL will then lease the parks back to PARC.

Parks involved

Wild Waves and Enchanted Village in Federal Way

Six Flags Darien Lake in Buffalo, N.Y.

Six Flags Elitch Gardens in Denver

Frontier City and the White Water Bay water park in Oklahoma City

SplashTown in Houston

Waterworld USA in Concord, Calif.