For more than four decades now, Gary Story just can’t seem to stay away from Frontier City.
From the days he and brother Rick roamed the park as kids, to his years building it into a theme-park powerhouse, Story and Frontier City have shared a special bond.
Now, Story and business partner Kieran Burke are once again managing Frontier City, along with White Water Bay, and this time for owner CNL Lifestyle Properties, which purchased the parks from Six Flags Entertainment Corporation in 2007.
“I remember when they opened the lost mine ride,” Story says. “It’s still there today. It’s a different ride than it was back then, but it’s pretty special.”
That in a nutshell is the reason for Story and Burke to be back in charge once more. Seems like every time Frontier City is broke, they’re the men called in to fix it.
“We’re going to put these parks back on the map,” Story says. “We’re fixing the things that have broken over the years.”
He acknowledges White Water Bay, which celebrates its 30th season this summer, has perennially maintained a positive brand image in the market. On the other end of the spectrum, Story can be one of Frontier City’s most staunch critics. Maybe it’s because of his long-term involvement with the 53-year-old park that he is so brutally honest.
“It has very spotty downtime issues in terms of the rides,” he says. “Our rides will be 100% operable this year. We are fully committed to spending what needs to be spent.”
With that, Story says a “very aggressive” entertainment package will be offered, drawing talent from local dance and arts schools.
Food options also will be addressed, and potential concessionaires evaluated.
It’s a far cry from what he remembers growing up, when his father, on the way to the Stockyards, would give the brothers $10 to pass the day. He remembers the allure of the shows and getting autographs from Wild West actors such as Jay Silverheel, who played Tonto on “The Lone Ranger.”
Growing up in the park, Story returned years later to manage it with Burke, who lives in New York.
“When I went out to the park, I was very disappointed because it was in a pretty run-down condition and had lived through a long period of underinvestment and quite a bit of neglect,” Story says. “But the thing I knew about Oklahoma City was this is a good community of hardworking people who were very family-oriented and wanted a place nearby for family fun.”
With that in mind, they were able to pour money into the park. Seeing the success in Oklahoma City, they went on to help create the Six Flags brand, which grew to a 40-park, eight-country operation at its peak.
“That always ticked me to great extent that little old Frontier City grew up and built this big company around it,” Story says. “There is a feeling of déjà vu coming back.”
Story stepped back from operations in 2006 to focus on his health, and Burke moved on after wholesale corporate changes, but neither could pass up another opportunity to manage the park.
“These parks have a very special place in our hearts,” Burke says. “We’ve never forgotten our roots there in Oklahoma and that it all began there. Being able to come back and operate those parks again is very special.”
photo Gary Story