Three prominent Louisville business leaders have joined former Kentucky Kingdom operator Ed Hart in a new $40 million proposal to reopen the abandoned amusement park in 2014.
The proposal to the Kentucky State Fair Board is a second try by Hart to reopen the park. His group’s new bid seeks no state funding, except for tourism tax credits, which allow developers to recover a share of their investment by letting them keep some sales tax revenue the project generates.
The new proposal was offered at almost the same time that the fair board disclosed Wednesday that Gov. Steve Beshear had asked it to issue a request for proposals from potential operators of the ride and water park at the Kentucky Exposition Center. The park was last open in the fall of 2009 before Six Flags pulled out amid a bankruptcy filing.
Fair board chairman Ron Carmicle said in an interview Wednesday that the fair board is expected to approve Beshear’s request to issue the request for proposals. The board meets Thursday morning on the first day of the Kentucky State Fair.
Carmicle said at mid-afternoon that he was not aware that Hart’s new group had delivered their proposal to the fair board administration office at Freedom Hall. But he said he assumed that any proposals received would be considered as part of the request-for-proposal process, in which the board would review the submissions, then try to negotiate a deal with the preferred bidder.
Hart, who operated Kentucky Kingdom for about a decade prior to 2000, was abruptly dropped from consideration last October by the fair board in his effort to reopen the park. He had lined up nearly $30 million in financing.
Fair board president Harold Workman never gave details of why he dropped the negotiations with Hart after months of talks; Workman said only that Hart had made unacceptable demands.
Fair board spokeswoman Amanda Storment late Wednesday afternoon quoted Workman as saying that he had not seen Hart’s proposal. But Hart’s office said the proposals were left at the fair board’s front desk, marked for Carmicle and Workman.
In the new effort, Hart’s group is doing business as the Kentucky Kingdom Redevelopment Co. He has been joined by: Mary Moseley, CEO of the Al J. Schneider Co. that owns the Galt House and vast office properties; Bruce Lunsford, CEO of Lunsford Capital and a Hart partner in the film and other businesses; and Ed Glasscock, chairman emeritus of the Frost Brown Todd law firm and a civic leader. The Schneider interests guaranteed much of Hart’s investment under his ill-fated bid a year ago.
After dropping Hart late last year, the fair board entered into a tentative deal with the Koch family that owns Holiday World in Santa Claus, Ind. The Kochs intended to rename the park Bluegrass Boardwalk.
But that group also withdrew abruptly, citing the extensive requirements to obtain state and city incentives -- even though state financial help had been okayed -- and also the deteriorated condition of some of the park rides and equipment that had sat idle for years.
The new Hart partners said they are asking the fair board for essentially the same lease terms that the state approved for the Holiday World group. Their new offer is to invest $10 million in upfront equity, with the other $30 million in money that would be provided by an unidentified lender. The Holiday World group had offered to invest about $16.5 million.
In a news release, Moseley cited the importance of the park to the local tourism and hospitality industries. She said, “This is a strong partnership.....who deeply care about this community and its quality of life.” She said that, with the park closed, tourism dollars are going elsewhere. She said the park would put about 1,000 people to work; the park traditionally hired about 800 summer workers, many of them young adults.
Glasscock said, “We intend to do this right. We want to restore Kentucky Kingdom to its former position as the No. 1, paid tourist attraction in Kentucky. Our $40 million will get the job done.”
And Lunsford added, “We don’t need to go outside the state to find a good operator.”
Information supplied by Hart’s company indicated that:
- The group will pay the fair board the same fixed rent during the first year that Bluegrass Boardwalk was prepared to pay - $400,000 - with the fixed rent increasing to $750,000 in subsequent years.
- The Hart group and fair board would negotiate a split of parking revenue.
- Two appraisals of the park’s rides by outside experts set their “as is” value at $7 million to $9 million.
Carmicle said Beshear told him Wednesday morning he wanted the fair board to seek competing proposals from potential park operators.
The governor’s office referred questions to the Kentucky Tourism Cabinet and its secretary, Marcheta Sparrow, who represents the governor on the fair board. Cabinet spokesman Gil Lawson said Sparrow was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon.
Carmicle said the fair board received several expressions of interest from potential operators after the Holiday World deal collapsed. He and Workman have declined to name the companies. Carmicle said the fair board will retain "complete authority and control" over the abandoned theme park.