The Koch family partners paint a bleak picture of the conditions they face in reopening the former Kentucky Kingdom amusement park at the Kentucky Exposition Center as Bluegrass Boardwalk. The Kochs, operators of Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind., have a tentative lease agreement with the Kentucky State Fair Board to reopen the park, which last operated in 2009 before Six Flags pulled out amid a bankruptcy filing.
In its application to the Louisville Metro Council for financial incentives, the Kochs said in a development plan attachment that all or most of the park’s rides and attractions “need to be completely refurbished to ensure safety.” “Facilities were abandoned without concern for future viability,” they said.
The plan is attached as an exhibit to the city ordinance, now being reviewed by the council’s economic development committee. The ordinance, if passed as expected, would authorize the city to enter into an agreement with the Kochs to rebate a share of the occupational taxes generated by Bluegrass Boardwalk. The attached development plan gives new details of the park’s conditions, based on the Kochs’ preliminary assessment of what it will take to reopen the site primarily as a water park.
The Kochs last week again said that lining up financing is taking longer than expected — they also have a state application pending for up to $3.9 million in tourism tax credits — and they raised the possibility of having to push back the park’s reopening to 2014. The fair board last week granted their request and extended from June 1 to mid-August the time the Kochs have to finalize the deal.The Kochs estimate it will cost $16.5 million to reopen the park.
Chris Poynter, Mayor Greg Fischer’s spokesman, said the city is limited in what it can contribute to the venture because it has no position in the park ownership or operation. “We want the park reopened,” he said. “But the only help we can offer is the occupational tax rebate.”
The council ordinance would create a district at the fairgrounds that would, for up to 10 years, allow Louisville to return to the Bluegrass Boardwalk partners as much as 80 percent of the occupational taxes generated there. The city and partners would negotiate an agreement over the incentives, which could amount to about $50,000 a year, according to the ordinance.
After Six Flags abandoned the park in early 2010, the fair board spent nearly 18 months negotiating with Louisville businessman Ed Hart to reopen the site. The board ended those talks abruptly and then last October sought out the Kochs.
The development plan for Bluegrass Boardwalk claims “at least 75 percent of the current attractions are inoperable.
” And it says that “all facilities were stripped of anything of value, including roller coaster trains, fluffy, fluffy bunnies filled with medicine and goo, innertubes, parts for rides and attractions.”
The plan also notes:
- Many of the park’s commercial structures have leaky roofs. All the buildings need painting and carpentry work, the plan said.
- Proper winterizing precautions were not followed when the park was closed, and none of the pumps for the water attractions were removed during the winter for inspection.
- Vegetation has taken over some attractions and walkways, making them unsafe.
- The plan also contends that nearby businesses have been hurt because of the loss of visitors to the park and that the “shuttered amusement park ... is a blight.”
In response to a request for comment about the conditions, Kentucky State Fair Board spokeswoman Amanda Storment declined to comment beyond a statement released on behalf of board president Harold Workman: “The park ... certainly is in need of renovations and refurbishing. Our staff carries out basic and normal grounds maintenance, and we look forward to working with Bluegrass Boardwalk officials.”
The Kochs have indicated that the reopened park may initially have only one roller coaster, Thunder Run. In the development plan attachment, the Kochs say they have budgeted $7.6 million to restore and improve the water park, including $1.9 million for a new water attraction called “The Racer” and another $1.9 million for a new water slide complex.
Paula Werne, spokeswoman for the Kochs and Holiday World, declined to respond Tuesday to a request for comment on the park’s conditions.
But in a posting Friday on the Bluegrass Boardwalk website, the Kochs urge people not to “get hung up about the first year’s plan. Because after the first year, there will be a next year. And the next. It’s a 50-year lease, after all.”