- The Washington Times - Sunday, June 3, 2007

Six Flags America in Largo was the best-performing theme park in the chain over the Memorial Day weekend, prompting a visit last week from Chief Executive Officer Mark Shapiro.

Warm weather in the Washington area, which typically sees rain or lower temperatures during the unofficial kickoff to summer, prompted locals to hit the outdoors. The area’s beaches also reported near-record crowds, as previously reported.

But Mr. Shapiro’s visit came one year into a “three- or four-year” turnaround of the New York theme park company. Washington Redskins owner Dan Snyder led a takeover of the company in late 2005. He soon brought Mr. Shapiro on board to lead the changes.

“We’re right in the midst of a good turnaround,” Mr. Shapiro said as he strolled the theme park with Six Flags America President Terry Prather and other officials. “It’s not going to happen overnight … but this year, you should see a dramatic difference in our park’s appearance, guest service, entertainment options and our family-friendly message.”

The park hosts a daily 4 p.m. Americana parade, opening and closing ceremonies, additional shows, as well as meals and meet-and-greets with Looney Tunes characters.

Six Flags has been up front with the fact that all the moves are an attempt to make the theme parks more like the family-friendly Disney World. Mr. Shapiro is a former executive at ESPN, which is owned by the Walt Disney Co.

Part of the turnaround is stressing a family-friendly code of conduct — including bans on bikini tops and smoking — and presenting a clean park, Mr. Shapiro said as he picked up nearly every piece of trash he came across during his walk. Other Six Flags officials insisted that he “always” did that — not just while walking around with a reporter.

The company also is spending more on marketing. The media budget has swelled from $60 million to $85 million this year.

On the horizon …

Doughboys, the Gaithersburg pizza and panini restaurant, is scheduled to reopen next week after a fire closed the restaurant for four months.

The restaurateurs took their three years of experience into consideration when remodeling after the fire, which was sparked by an improperly installed duct.

“In rebuilding the restaurant, we knew we could make improvements which would benefit our customers and make the total dining experience more delightful,” said co-owner Ali Bagheri. “For example, we’ve rearranged the layout of our kitchen to minimize the wait times for our most popular items.”

A grand re-opening party is scheduled at the restaurant, at 251 Market St. West, for Sunday.

The Tetra Cos., a Richmond real-estate developer, and former Dallas Cowboys wide receiver Michael Irvin have formed TMI Group, a private equity fund to finance Tetra’s mixed use developments, with its eye on the Washington area.

TMI Group has started a mixed-use project in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., to be followed by developments in Columbia, S.C., and Richmond.

“We plan to use the footprint here, and we’re planning to do it all over,” Mr. Irvin said, including the District as a city where he hopes to build.

Contact Jen Haberkorn at 202/636-4836 or jhaberkorn@washingtontimes.com.

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