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Florida firm buys Six Flags Darien Lake Local theme park is one of seven sold for $312 million

The Big Kahuna water slide will be just as wet; the 208-foot drop of the Man of Steel roller coaster just as terrifying.

But the name on the gates at Six Flags Darien Lake will be different next season.

Six Flags announced Thursday it has agreed to sell the theme park 25 miles east of Buffalo, plus six other sites, to a Florida operator for $312 million.

New York-based Six Flags had said in December that it was seeking a buyer for up to nine properties to cut its $2.2 billion in debt.

"We do expect [Darien Lake] will prosper under this new management," Six Flags spokeswoman Wendy Goldberg said.

Existing season tickets will be honored at Darien as well as at other Six Flags-branded parks through the 2007 season, she said. In addition, the new operator will honor group bookings and other existing arrangements, she said. The sale is expected to close in March pending anti-trust approval.

The prospective new operator, a Jacksonville company called PARC 7F, is headed by former managers of Six Flags. That entity will lease the parks from the ultimate buyer in the deal, a real estate investment trust called CNL Income Properties in Orlando.

Darien Lake "is an important regional attraction -- we look forward to maintaining it as such," said Byron Carlock, president and chief executive of CNL.

The Genesee County park had about 1.2 million visitors last year, he said. Of the parks in the sale, it has the most attractions with a music stage, water rides and lodging in addition to the core thrill rides. The Darien Lake Performing Arts Center adjoining the amusement park is a major venue that draws marquee performers including concerts last year by Aerosmith, John Mayer, Sheryl Crow and Tom Petty.

A new name hasn't been chosen, but the Genesee County park will probably keep the Darien Lake name it has worn since before Six Flags' ownership, he said.

The seven parks in the sale had 3.6 million visitors and about $30 million in pre-tax operating profits in 2006, according to Six Flags. The company wouldn't discuss individual parks' results.

Founded by businessman Paul Snyder, the Darien Lake amusement park in Corfu was bought by Six Flags in 1995. It lists more than 50 thrill rides and attractions, including roller coasters with names like Predator and the Viper, which the park says was the world's first with five upside-down loops.

Darien is one of two Six Flags-branded parks in the sale, the other being Six Flags Elitch Gardens in Denver. Other parks being sold are Frontier City and the White Water Bay water park in Oklahoma City; SplashTown in Houston; Waterworld USA in Concord, Calif., and Wild Waves and Enchanted Village in Seattle.

CNL owns a $1 billion portfolio of marinas, golf courses, ski resorts and other sites the company calls "lifestyle real estate." Among its holdings are Great Wolf water parks in Ohio and Wisconsin, the Gatlinburg Sky Lift in Tennessee and Bretton Woods ski resort in New Hampshire.

e-mail: fwilliams@buffnews.com

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