Another Blow to Flint, Mich. : Auto World Theme Park to Close

Times Staff Writer

The Six Flags Auto World theme park in Flint, Mich., which attempted to capitalize on Flint’s painful dependence on the car industry by offering entertainment with an automotive motif, is shutting down, at least temporarily, due to lagging attendance just six months after it opened, park officials said Friday.

Auto World’s closure is a devastating blow to Flint, a battered auto town of 500,000 in east central Michigan that was widely proclaimed the “unemployment capital of America” in 1982, when it had the highest jobless rate of any city in the nation.

When the indoor park opened with great fanfare last July 4, Auto World, with its 650 part- and full-time jobs, was hailed as the savior of Flint’s crumbling downtown district. But with attendance 23% below expectations and operating losses mounting, park officials said Friday that Auto World, which cost $70 million to build, will close Monday and that 250 part-time workers, mostly high school students, will be laid off. Those employees will be placed on a recall list--similar to those used by auto companies when they lay off workers--and will be given priority for rehiring if the park reopens.


Auto World said the closing is “temporary,” but Six Flags spokeswoman Kathy Schoch said the park will remain shuttered indefinitely until a reopening date can be set. “We know we are reopening in 1985, but we don’t know when,” she said.

Six Flags, the theme park subsidiary of Chicago-based Bally Corp., manages Auto World, which is owned jointly by local government and private investors through a complex financial structure.

Auto World’s 40 full-time employees have not yet been laid off, but Schoch said it isn’t certain how long they will be kept on. Another 100 part-time workers were laid off in December when park officials announced that Auto World would open only on weekends during the winter.

Schoch said park officials aren’t sure why Auto World, touted as the largest indoor entertainment complex in the world, has been a failure, but they are planning a marketing study to find out. But it is clear that Auto World’s backers were overly optimistic about Flint’s ability to support a major theme park.

Civic leaders had promised that 1984 attendance would hit 600,000 and predicted that Auto World would eventually draw 900,000 visitors to downtown Flint each year. But Thomas Major, Auto World’s vice president and general manager, said Friday the decision to shut the park was made when 1984 attendance came in at an anemic 460,000.