“Nearly three years after the bankrupt Six Flags closed Kentucky Kingdom, it now appears the operator who built the park to its peak in the 1990s will have a crack at reopening the amusement park next year.
On Thursday, the Kentucky State Fair Board signed a 50-year preliminary lease with Ed Hart’s Kentucky Kingdom LLLP — which includes investors Bruce Lunsford, Ed Glasscock and Al J. Schneider Co.’s Mary Moseley — to operate the park on state land at the fairgrounds.
The company plans to invest $45 million in rebuilding the park — $20 million from their own equity and an additional $25 million from a bank loan — and have it open by May 2014, hoping to immediately compete with regional parks such as Indiana’s Holiday World and Cincinnati’s King’s Island.
There will now be a 90-day waiting period until the lease is finalized, as Hart’s group applies for a potential $10 million in sales tax rebates from the state’s Tourism Cabinet in order to complete the stipulations of their bank loan.
While such optimism of a Kentucky Kingdom opening has unexpectedly crumbled in recent years — first with Hart’s unfruitful 18-month effort to reopen the park, followed by Holiday World’s owners suddenly backing out of a plan to reopen it as Bluegrass Boardwalk last summer — all of the parties involved assume this is the real deal.
“If there’s an earthquake we may reconsider,” Hart said during a Thursday press conference at the Crowne Plaza Hotel across the street from the fairgrounds. “But barring an act of God, I think we’re ready to go.”
The news of the agreement is a dramatic turnaround from last fall, when Gov. Steve Beshear openly doubted the prospects of Kentucky Kingdom reopening and questioned whether the state should use the land for another purpose.
But after three months of successful negotiations with the state’s Finance Cabinet, and a late concession by Mayor Greg Fischer, the prospect of bulldozers razing Kentucky Kingdom appears to have been averted.
While Kentucky Kingdom LLLP still has to jump the hurdle of being approved for tourism tax credits — which they failed to achieve in 2011 — Hart is confident such obstacles of the past are out of their way, with local and state government now fully backing the project, along with a signed lease.
Hart partly credits this deal’s success to the scrutiny and pressure of the media and local activists, which helped convince elected officials that the cost of opening Kentucky Kingdom was worth the economic impact it would have on Louisville and the state.
Considering the contentious way the negotiations between Hart and the state ended in 2011, Beshear’s words of doubt last summer — as well as the fact that the state’s request for proposals was worded in a way that disqualified Hart’s plan to have the state guarantee its bank loan — made many pessimistic that a deal would be reached.
Though Hart altered his proposal to meet the RFP, such pessimism remained following a report by WHAS citing an anonymous source “familiar with the review” who claimed the Beshear administration would reject the proposal, in part because reopening the park “would jeopardize possible future uses” of the property.
While all parties involved agreed they would not discuss negotiations in the media, Thursday’s series of press conferences and press releases touting the agreement shows the Beshear administration was eventually convinced.
From the Fair Board’s press release, Beshear touted the economic impact of an open Kentucky Kingdom, stating, “We are pleased to see that we were able to reach a mutually agreeable lease so the park can reopen as quickly as possible….”
LEO article by Joe Sonka, published January 30, 2013
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