The Kentucky Kingdom Redevelopment Company (KKRC), a Kentucky limited liability company under the leadership of majority member and sole investor, Edward J. Hart, has entered into an exclusive agreement with the Kentucky State Fair Board for the purpose of creating a redevelopment plan and negotiating a lease to operate a theme park on the former Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom property.
A successful redevelopment of the Kentucky Kingdom property as family entertainment is important to the region for jobs and economic development. It directly and indirectly benefits local contractors and vendors, and for twenty years has been a significant part of Louisville’s tourism and hospitality industry.
Kentucky Kingdom adds to the quality of life of the region and its closing has cost both city and state government substantial tax dollars as Kentucky families travel out of state to visit major theme or water parks and regional tourists fail to choose Louisville as a travel destination. According to Louisville Convention & Visitor Bureau President Jim Wood, more than 10,000 room nights per year will go unsold due to the park’s closure. In addition, nearly 100 full time jobs and nearly 1,000 seasonal jobs have been lost.
The KKRC has recruited a proven redevelopment and operations team which has succeeded in turning around two previously failed theme parks: Magic Springs in Hot Springs, Arkansas and the original Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville, Kentucky. After operating for 17 years, the Magic Springs theme park closed in 1995. Mr. Hart and his development team reopened it in 2000 and it remains open today. The original Kentucky Kingdom closed in 1987 after only one season of operation and Mr. Hart’s team reopened that facility in 1990 and successfully operated it until it was sold in 1997.
As part of its due diligence, the KKRC has conducted a thorough review of the Kentucky Kingdom property and amenities toward determining a strategic plan for positioning the park so that it is compatible with current market trends and local community needs.
Preliminary plans call for a reconfiguration of the property’s use including consolidation of existing and new rides as well as an expansion of the existing water park.
The KKRC will continue to develop its plan to provide an exciting, safe, well managed and well funded family oriented attraction complimentary to the activities and events that routinely occupy the Kentucky Exposition Center. A reasonable timetable and estimated costs will be determined as the plan is finalized.
KKRC has agreed to provide up to $3 million for the exclusive right to finalize a lease agreement satisfactory to both KKRC and the Kentucky State Fair Board.
In addition, KKRC’s redevelopment plans are contingent upon the creation of a public-private partnership with local and/or state agencies in order to provide the investment dollars necessary to substantially renew and improve the park to achieve the positive economic impact that the park is capable of providing for the region.
The KKRC looks forward to pursuing a successful redevelopment plan with the Fair Board and, assuming the Fair Board finds it acceptable, to finalizing the terms and conditions of a lease agreement. Recognizing that a reasonable timetable is important, the KKRC is prepared to devote its full attention and energy to the successful redevelopment of the Kentucky Kingdom property.
It's a done deal: by Thursday afternoon, Kentucky Kingdom will have a new operator. State lawmakers tell WAVE 3 that during a 1 p.m. meeting on May 27, Kentucky State Fair Board president Harold Workman will present the board with a contract for an operator to take over the amusement park. And it will be approved.
With the 60 full-time employees and 1,000 seasonal workers the park employed, it is welcome news for the state and for the city of Louisville.
Earlier this month, Workman told Metro Council members that with all the pending litigation, it would be 2011 before the park could open again. The state is suing Six Flags claiming the rides belong to the Commonwealth, not the theme park operator.
Many park employees say they have heard a former owner of Kentucky Kingdom will be named its new operator. Among the names being discussed: first owner, Ed Hart. If it is a former operator, employees say they would be very happy about it because they are hoping to get their jobs back.
"To have somebody that knows the park and has a local contact has to beneficial for the community and all the employees just so we can get the product back to where it needs to be," said Mike Sutt, a Kentucky Kingdom safety manager who was laid off two weeks ago.
"We know the park and a lot of people been here for years and years and we were a big family here," said Troy Shortridge, a former ride technician at the park. "When we heard the park was shut down, it kind of split-up the family, but we're hoping for a new owner to come in and hopefully hire the full-time staff."
But even seasonal employees, like Thurman James, a University of Kentucky sophomore, said he will be waiting for word of the new operator. According to James, being a ride operator for Kentucky Kingdom was good for his schedule and his wallet.
"It was a great place to work, a great opportunity and a great place where you can have fun and work," said James.
Workman wasn't available for comment in time for this story.