When is nothing better than something?
I highly doubt any current readers were visiting the site then, but I started Theme Park Insider when I lived in Denver, Colorado back in the late 1990s. That made my "home" park, if you will, Six Flags Elitch Gardens, now sans
the Six Flags, since the chain sold the Denver park, along with several other properties, when Dan Snyder brought in his management team a few years back.
Elitch Gardens was, uh, not one of my favorite parks. Built on a slab of asphalt next to Denver's Pepsi Center arena, Elitch offers nothing that looks like a "gardens." It's a run-of-the-mill iron park, with low capacity and resulting long waits.
The Denver Post's John Wenzel wasn't too impressed with Elitch's, either, smacking down the park in today's edition of the paper.
During a recent weekday visit, families and middle-aged couples were sparse. Teenagers traveled in noisy packs, glued to their cellphones and cigarettes, generally making anyone over 18 feel ancient.
As I waited in line for the Tower of Doom free-fall ride, a group of dudes taunted another group of dudes with violent threats, one guy lifting his shirt to display his tattoos, sloshing beer here and there while he yelled. Just when it seemed they were going to clash, a portly security guard called the ringleader over to the fence and carted him off.
Wenzel questioned whether the park should remain open, given its lackluster state.
Would the space be better used as an extension of the Highland and Platte neighborhoods, with their locally owned eateries, boutique shops and similarly hip clientele? Or would doing that just add to the unaffordable condo values and menagerie of ridiculous haircuts?
We've invested so much in downtown over the past 15 years to maintain its growth and vitality. If Elitch's can't keep up, it's time to decide what we want that crucial urban space to look like.
My wife, who grew up in Denver, tells me that Elitch's wasn't always this way. It once stood on a different site (moving in 1995) and had, well, actual gardens. The site was small, though, and when the city moved to redevelop the Central Platte Valley near downtown, the park's owners - who would later go on to obtain Six Flags - jumped at the chance to move to this larger site.
But they didn't do much with it, except move over some off-the-shelf rides and install a dreaded Vekoma "Mind Eraser."
The Post writer doesn't seem to have much love for theme parks, though I'm inclined to forgive that attitude given the lack of positive role models in the U.S. Mountain West. But the questions, now raised, seem to me worth asking:
When is nothing better than something? And at what point do fans just go ahead and let a park die?
I've went to Elitch Gardens once (last summer). I rode a total of two rides which were the big wooden coaster they have and the merry go round. The reason is one of the coasters I was on stopped suddenly as it started and all of the should harnesses lifted...so I got off the ride. The tower free fall tower broke down twice as I was in line with the magnet (or holder) not releasing the car down the tower.
As much as I rant about Six Flags (especially their Saint Louis operation), they are still a far superior amusement park company to PARC Management, the folks who run (I use the term loosely) Elitch Gardens. PARC also runs a couple of other parks in my general area, Frontier City (Oklahoma), and Magic Springs and Crystal Falls (Arkansas). All three of these parks are former Six Flags fiascoes that are in an extremely poor state of repair. PARC seems to love investing in declining parks then doing absolutely nothing to improve them.
I also think it has something to do with the community it is in and its relationship to it.
Actually, I think that Elitch's is in a potentially excellent location, though the site leaves much to be desired. (If you see what I am saying...) It needs landscaping, but mostly, it needs a better connection with the rest of the development around it.
Elitch was my first Six Flags park.
Funny you should mention this today, as I just went to "The Park" on Friday. (Note: Elitch gardens is no longer owned by the Elitch family and no longer has any gardens, so we have started calling in "The Park").
Well I live by PARC Owned Darien Lake and if you ask me they are doing a good Not Great job with my home park. But the only reason is that Darien Lake is the Biggest Park in the PARC Chain so far and they feel they its not important to invest in the other parks. Also I feel bad for the Magic Springs People do to the fact that most of there magior rides are CLOSED.
I lived in Denver from the mid '80s to '90 and visited the original Elitch's often. Though small and without many interesting rides, the park was always fun to visit for the ambiance (and Mr. Twister was a darn fine coaster!)
I found myself asking this exact question when the former Marine World park was Borg'd by Sick Flags. Was it worth seeing it stay open, knowing full well the place had mutated into little more than a Sea World wannabe?
It's always sad to see parks in a bad way. I passed Camden Park in Huntington, WVA, and it broke my heart to see it's state. However, I would rather see a mediocre amusement park than another mindless soulless strip mall or another housing development. Do we really need more places to shop or another block of fast food restaurants?
Derek, Bravo! I could not agree more (about taking control of parks back from the MBA-toting suits). A big part of the attraction for me, at the original Marine World, was if you hung around long enough (and I certainly did) you actually became part of the "park family" no matter if you'd ever worked for them or not.
I currently live on the East Coast, but I was born and raised within very close to the original Elitch's location. It was indeed a wonderful place. It had numerous gardens and many, many places to picnic - when you could actually bring food into parks. In fact it started out as a zoological gardens. I had several relatives who worked there in their teenage years. Ol' Tom Tancredo worked there as well.
Hey -- John Wenzel, writer of the Elitch's article, here. I actually have a lot of love for theme parks and have visited dozens over the years. Perhaps holding Elitch Gardens in Denver to the same standards as Cedar Point and King's Island (my two home state parks, and the ones that I've visited the most) was unfair, but I'm glad it spurred this discussion. It's important for theme parks to reflect in some way their geographic and cultural surroundings, and I just felt Elitch's wasn't doing that as well as it could.
This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.