OKLAHOMA CITY -- Premier Parks went on a shopping spree in the late 1990s that would be the envy of any fun-lover. Among the items: Elitsch Gardens Amusement Park in Denver, Waterworld USA water parks in California, and Great Escape and Splashwater Kingdom in New York.
By the time the company had gobbled up Waliby Family Parks, with locations in France, Belgium and Holland, it was pretty clear to some analysts that things were getting out of hand.
Then in 1998, the Oklahoma City company acquired the Six Flags chain for $1.9 billion and later took on the Six Flags name. Now it finds itself saddled with more than $2 billion in debt, and the company is for sale in the middle of a proxy battle.
Ned DeWitt, Six Flags president from 1973 to 1982, said the string of purchases didn't make sense. ''I think there was a mania, no question," said DeWitt.
Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder, who has 11.7 percent of the company, says it needs to be streamlined. He'd like to increase his holdings and oust the current managers, including Kieran Burke, the chief executive who presided over the buying spree.
Burke points to reported revenue for second-quarter 2005 that was 8.4 percent higher than in the previous year, and attendance that increased 6.6 percent. These reports come after years of declines.
Burke said in a statement that the better recent performance reflects an investment program that has added new attractions in many parks, initiatives to improve services, and an advertising campaign featuring ''Mr. Six," a dancing elderly man in a tuxedo.
Over the first six months of 2005, the company reported a loss in net income of $167 million.
Under Snyder's plan, ESPN programming whiz Mark Shapiro would come aboard as CEO and Snyder would be chairman. The plan is to get rid of properties that aren't critical and rework marketing strategies.
Six Flags responded with an announcement it's for sale. Its stock was at $7.30 Tuesday, near the top of its 52-week range.