FLINT, Mich. -- Six Flags AutoWorld, a $70 million theme park devoted to America's passion for cars in a city ravaged by the industry's recent recession, was given a 'test drive' Tuesday by 2,500 visitors.
The park, billed as the world's largest indoor entertainment complex, opens officially July 4. First to visit the park were reporters and area residents who took advantage of cut-rate ticket coupons.
AutoWorld promoters said they hope to draw 900,000 customers a year to the park, which is within blocks of auto plants and is reached via the United Auto Workers freeway.
The park is the key factor in an effort to revive Flint. The city saw unemployment peak at nearly 25 percent in the early 1980s as the auto industry slump forced plant shutdowns and layoffs. Unemployment still hovers at 13 percent.
Thomas Osiecki, AutoWorld marketing manager, said he expects AutoWorld to be 'a kind of permanent automotive World's Fair.'
'We want Flint to be to the auto industry what Cooperstown is to baseball,' said Osiecki. 'We're the catalyst that will bring people into this community.'
AutoWorld is the Six Flags organization's first attempt at an indoor park. Others are under construction in Baltimore and St. Louis.
The park, which covers 300,000 square feet in three buildings, offers a mix of rides and exhibits.
In keeping with the automotive theme, visitors are greeted by a three-story, 10-ton V-6 engine complete with working parts.
Surrounding computer terminals allow drivers to test their reflexes and to design a car by combining different front and rear sections.
A highlight of AutoWorld is the film, 'Speed,' produced by the creators of 'To Fly,' shown at the Air and Space Museum in Washington.
The 'test drive' revealed a few defects. Bumper cars weren't working, and a number of other rides, such as one billed as a 'Humorous History of Automobility,' and narrated by a talking horse, ran jerkily.
One car on the 'Great Race' ride was 'recalled' by its operators, who would not let a reporter and photographer ride in it. The auto later became lodged in swinging doors of the exhibit, holding up the procession momentarily.
'Test drive' participants paid $5.95 for tickets, which will cost $8.95 per person after the official opening.
'This is really nice,' said Bill Kuhoupt, an unemployed worker from Saginaw, Mich. 'We'd come back for full price.'
Scott Miller, 13, of Flint, and his cousin, Robert Grable, 11, of Lake Orion, Mich., both pronounced AutoWorld 'cool, real cool.' But Miller said the park needed 'more rides' to hold his interest.