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WHAT IF THE MAGIC WERE GONE? SELLING, CLOSING THEME PARK WOULD TAKE TOLL ON TOURISM, JOBS.

Byline: SUE DOYLE Staff Writer

VALENCIA -- For 35 years Magic Mountain has stood as a major landmark of Santa Clarita, putting the little-known suburb on the map for out-of-towners looking for a day of thrills.

In fact, the theme park's name crowns a major roadway that runs through the area that has grown up around it, once a dirty patch of carrot and onion fields.

Now some wonder what will happen to the tourism trade in Santa Clarita. Magic Mountain is the big draw, and the 250-acre theme park has spawned hamburger joints, gas stations and hotels to serve the visitors. All that is in jeopardy as the park faces an uncertain future.

Magic Mountain and Hurricane Harbor are among the six properties Six Flags may sell to shave off $2.1 billion in debt. The New York-based theme park operation announced the news two weeks ago.

``Basically, if it shut down and the property was reused for something else, there would be a huge ripple impact on all the establishments around it,'' said Jack Kyser, Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. chief economist. ``And a real possibility that some of the weaker establishments would go out of business.''

If gates to the theme park were locked for good, Kyser added that it would also mean a significant loss of jobs for the area. Six Flags California's Magic Mountain is one of the largest employers in the Santa Clarita Valley, although most of the jobs are part time and lower wage.

While Los Angeles County reaps the royalties of tax revenue from Magic Mountain, the nearby city of Santa Clarita benefits by playing host to the theme park, a huge destination draw to the area. Visitors eat at its family restaurants, shop at the sparkling mall and sleep in hotels visible from the freeway.

Outside a restaurant boasting its strawberry cream pies across from the theme park, 18-year-olds Chad Francis and Kristopher Young said they drove five hours this week to ride X-No Limits. The roller coaster spins riders in complete circles forward and backward.

The pair said no ride between the 300-mile stretch from their San Jose homes to Santa Clarita compares to the white-knuckled charge they get from the roller coaster. They bought season passes to the park.

``It's worth the gas money,'' said Young, looking at his pickup truck.

While tourism to Magic Mountain provides a large driving force, it doesn't have the largest impact on Santa Clarita's economy. Instead, the majority of tourism comes from attendance at sporting and cultural events, said Jason Crawford, Santa Clarita's tourism administrator.

But having the adventure park in town sure helps.

When people drive in for Cowboy Festival or the AT&T Golf Classic, for example, they're likely to stick around town an extra day and also hit Magic Mountain.

``They'll come to an event, and they could go back home,'' Crawford said. ``But because of Six Flags, they'll be more likely to go to the event and then to Six Flags and make a weekend of out it.''

Without the theme park, the area may lose some of its shiny allure.

Readjusting luggage toppled over in the back of his SUV, Bob Davies stood in a parking lot of a family restaurant near Magic Mountain. The 46-year-old and his family were driving home to San Diego after a trip to Sacramento.

Glancing at the theme park, Davies grinned and recalled trips there as a teen. He said it's now a place where he brings his three kids, but if it were gone, he'd have no reason to come to Santa Clarita.

``Would you go to Anaheim if Disneyland wasn't there?'' he said. ``It's the same thing.''

Today, bulldozers make their way across land in front of the park's entrance and weave around a giant wheat-colored berm that block views of the park's twisting-and-turning rides. The property, owned by The Newhall Land and Farming Company, is being prepped for construction of some office buildings. Newhall Land built Magic Mountain, which has had a number of owners since.

Even as scores of thrill-seekers still flock to the park for their spins, dunks and screams, operators there are fielding hundreds of phone calls from visitors asking if the theme park is still open for business, fallout from the recently announced news.

Concerns have also grown among residents that the attractive parcel -- estimated at $1 million per acre -- could be sold to developers who would build more homes, condos and apartments in the fast-growing section of northern Los Angeles County. < But conversations for the sales have just begun, and at this point, there are no specific plans for buyers, said Wendy Goldberg, Six Flags spokeswoman. She said the company expects that it will appeal to other theme park operators.

``We think there will be a lot of interest as someone purchasing it as an ongoing operation,'' Goldberg said. ``It's a successful park, and there's a lot of interest in this sector right now.''

With more than 60,000 new homes on the way, economist Mark Schniepp said it wouldn't make sense to sell a major theme park as throngs of people move in, bringing new business with them.

In addition, to unbolt the 17 roller coasters and other spinning, twirling rides and the infrastructure that supports them would be expensive, and then cost even more money to move them, Schniepp said.

``Would you leave an area with 20,000 homes going up next door?'' said Schniepp, director of the Santa Barbara-based California Economic Forecast. ``That seems absolutely stupid. All the momentum in L.A. County is in the north.''

Without Magic Mountain, Kyser said, the area could still hold its own. With 250,000 residents calling the Santa Clarita Valley home, the area stands strong with aerospace, biomedical and technology jobs.

If the park did pull out, its best replacement would be a high-quality industrial center that would create customers from businesses surrounding it, Kyser said. Plus, it would provide a consistent level of business to the area and not the seasonal highs and lows associated with the theme park.

Still, if Magic Mountain were sold to another theme park operator who successfully oriented it to the family trade, Kyser said that would be a positive boon to the area.

``But the question is who is out there with the money to buy it?'' he asked.

sue.doyle(at)dailynews.com

(661) 257-5254

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Photo:

(color -- ran in SAC edition only) Charles Beris is hoping Six Flags Magic Mountain won't be closed. Story on Page 3.

Alex Collins/Special to the Daily News
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Publication:Daily News (Los Angeles, CA)
Date:Jul 9, 2006
Words:1102
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