At the end of the 2005 season in October, Six Flags is going to shut the 37-year-old theme park down and sell the property on which it sits. Six Flags claims that rising land values in the area have made the property worth more than the park itself, which has suffered from declining attendance, and that parking disputes with the folks at Reliant are also to blame. For whatever reason, a Houston landmark is disappearing.
I can’t say I’m surprised. The park has been on the downhill for a long time. It was aging and poorly-maintained, and was unable to expand beyond its 109-acre footprint. Attendance declined as the park suffered from a proliferation of new Six Flags properties in places like San Antonio, Louisiana and Mexico (whose thrill-seeking population no longer had to travel to Houston to get their roller-coaster fix) as well as a reputation as a gang-banger hangout. The exorbitant admission price (currently $42 for an adult) also kept increasing numbers of people away.
I have mixed feelings about AstroWorld’s demise. When I was a kid, I spent many a summer day there, riding the Greezed Lightnin’ and the XLR-8. When I was in college, I spent the summers of 1992 and 1994 working there, being treated like crap for minimum wage. (Somewhere in the Bush family photo album is a picture, taken during the 1992 Republican National Convention, of Bugs Bunny posing with a bunch of George and Barbara’s grandchildren and well as a few secret service agents. The guy in the Bugs Bunny costume would be me.) I hadn't set foot in the theme park for a long time, and really have had no desire to do so (my tolerance of long lines, brutal heat and overpriced food has waned somewhat since I was a kid), although I always envisioned that one day I’d be taking Kirby there. It looks like that’s not going to happen.
The site on which the property stands is has excellent access to transportation, since it is bounded by Kirby, Loop 610 and the light rail line. It is in a good location, near the Reliant complex and the Texas Medical Center. Given the fact that over 100 contiguous acres of property are hard to come by in this area, I’d have to say that this property probably won’t be on the market for long. Hopefully some sort of well-designed mixed-use development will appear there, with retail along the 610 frontage and a transit-oriented component adjacent to the light rail station.
AstroWorld was originally developed by Harris County Judge Roy Hofheinz as part of the so-called "Astrodomain" that included the Astrodome and Astroarena. It opened in 1968, three years after the Astrodome, and was purchased by Six Flags in 1975. The park’s signature ride, the Texas Cyclone, opened a year later. I think I’ll miss the Cyclone most of all.
(Retroblogged on August 23, 2015. I wrote an article very similar to this in 2008. The anticipated redevelopment of the park's site has never occurred and, with the exception of its use as overflow parking during the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, the land still sits vacant. But I still don't miss that place.)