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Six Flags Leaving Oklahoma

The theme park operator heads for the Big Apple with an eye to bigger stages.
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Having outgrown the boonies, theme parks operator

Six Flags


is heading for the big city.

In another move that

smacks of greater ambition, Six Flags said Friday it would shutter its Oklahoma City head office and put its parks there on the block. The company says that it wants to streamline operations in New York and focus on major-market parks.

"We continue to evaluate every asset in the Six Flags portfolio with a mission of improving shareholder value," said CEO Mark Shapiro, who was installed atop the company after big investor Dan Snyder won a proxy fight. "We're beginning a drive to implement operational strategies that will help reduce debt load and strengthen our brand."

Snyder, who also owns the National Football League's Washington Redskins, prevailed in a battle last year that saw the ouster of CEO Kieran Burke. Snyder starting buying the stock and making noise about its decline after Burke oversaw a period of slack performance and failed to find a Six Flags buyer.

Shapiro, a well-respected former ESPN programming head, wants to remake the company's image, from an operator of roller coasters to a provider of family entertainment. The company said earlier this month it would make its parks smoke-free.

Now Six Flags will put its Oklahoma City-based Frontier City and White Water Bay parks on the market. The sale will be handled by former NFL QB Roger Staubach's company, and will take place after the 2006 season.

Meanwhile, on Thursday,

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said that it was selling its Paramount theme parks, saying they don't fit with core assets at the company.

CBS chief Les Moonves said the properties, which see some 12 million visitors per year, have generated a lot of interest. He expects to close a sale in the second half of this year.

"We need to back focus off of roller-coasters and on to the basics of being a provider of great family experiences," Shapiro told

in an interview earlier this month.

To be sure, some feel that speculation about the scale of Six Flags' Hollywood ambitions are a little off target and the emphasis at the company right now is on improving entertainment within the parks.

Asked if Six Flags was a possible bidder for the Paramount properties, one analyst said, "it would be hard for them to structure a deal that would be accretive to them" and suggested that the company is instead "focused on paring down debt."

On the subject of who might be most interested in the Paramount properties, and for that matter Six Flags' Oklahoma assets, that analyst said simply, "private equity."

Asked this month about the prospects of moving into TV and films, toward becoming a full-entertainment or diversified media company, Shapiro said, "That will come much more down the line. First I need to get the blocking and tackling right."