Monday, October 15, 2012

More Developments in Kentucky as RFP Deadline for Louisville Theme Park Approaches

Penny Peavler, former Director of Personnel for Kentucky Kingdom, and her daughter Isabel greet King Louie, the park's mascot at the Save My Park rally on October 13.          Credit: Zymage Photography  

by Joe Kleiman, IPM News Editor

Louisville, KY, USA (October 15, 2012) -- A number of new developments have arisen in the saga of the closed Kentucky Kingdom theme park on the State Fair Grounds in Louisville, KY, with an October 19 deadline for proposals to revitalize and reopen the park only days away.
  • On September 18, the State Fair Board offered a tour of the park to potential park operators.  Ed Hart, former operator of Kentucky Kingdom, who has been attempting to win a bid from the Fair Board to operate the park for the past two years, told Louisville NBC affiliate WAVE, "Obviously the clock has gone backwards . . . The equipment was previously stored in an off site warehouse that's all been moved back into the park and it's in pretty much general disarray . . . A number of pumps in the water park are under water, that is expensive to repair, buildings have a lot more leaks."  According to the report, only one other bidder toured the park with Hart's group, in this case a former member of Hart's management team.  Hart spoke about the lack of attendees with WAVE, ""The fair board said that they have several national companies interested in the property. Where are they?  Whey didn't they show up? If someone is going to invest tens of millions of dollars in this property, I think they would do what Ed Hart did and at least come and look at it."  One day after the tour, the State's Finance and Administration Cabinet issued a FAQ addendum to the RFP stating that "it was not mandatory for a potential respondent to attend the tour." The addendum further indicated that additional tours could be scheduled at the request of a bidder and the "discretion of the Commonwealth" and that such tours would be mentioned in further addendums to the RFP.
  • On October 5, the Kentucky State Fair Board voted to hire Clifford "Rip" Rippetoe as its new President and CEO.  Rippetoe is principle of Rippetoe Solutions Group of Las Vegas and has extensive experience working with tourism and convention entities in Salt Lake City and Utah, including during the Olympic Games.  He will replace the outgoing Harold Workman, stepping down at the end of the year.  The Fair Board is currently anticipating a $5.4 million deficit for fiscal 2013.  According to a report by Louisville FOX affiliate WDRB, "The board has suffered a number of setbacks during the past several years -- Kentucky Kingdom closed, University of Louisville basketball moved to the KFC Yum Center, it lost the contract to run the center, and it lost rent from the Executive Inn, which was torn down."  In June 2012, the Louisville Arena Authority voted to drop the Fair Board as manager of the KFC Yum Center.  The new contract was given to AEG Entertainment, an international operator of stadiums and arenas.  Workman knew of the importance of reopening the park as late as last year.  The 2011 Final Committee Report of the Kentucky Legislature Joint Taskforce on Economic Development, issued in December 2011, states: "The president of the Kentucky Fair Board testified about the Kentucky Kingdom Theme Park. The previous owners of the park, Six Flags Entertainment Corporation, did not maintain the park and closed or removed some rides before deciding not to renew the lease. Based on an analysis of the park, significant investment is required to return the park to good status, and the Fair Board is working diligently to establish a public/private partnership. The Fair Board is also working with Louisville Metro Government to establish the funding needed to open the park in 2012. About $23 million in loans and assistance will be needed to open the park at 80 to 85 percent capacity in 2012. The board will ask the 2012 General Assembly for the additional $20 million needed to operate the park at 100 percent and to bring in needed additional rides. If funding is not found soon, the park will be unable to open in 2012. The key to theme park success is the introduction of new rides and major experiences at least every other year. With the success of this plan, the park can return to 1997 income levels of $1.2 million"  However, as illustrated in earlier IPM reports (see links below), the process has been controversial and prone to delays.
  • On Saturday, October 13, Save My Park, a support group founded by former Kentucky Kingdom employees held a rally outside the park's main gates, with over 200 former park staff, supporters, and members of the media in attendance.  The organization states on its website that its members "pledge to support the efforts of any qualified operator chosen by the Commonwealth of Kentucky through an open Request For Proposal (RFP) process, providing the goal of that process is to save Kentucky Kingdom and reopen it as a full-fledged regional theme park in 2014. We do not accept any proposal whereby Kentucky Kingdom would be reopened as a scaled-down attraction featuring a water park and some midway-style rides. We believe the state must recognize the difference between the two types of parks and understand that a scaled-down operation has far less ability to draw visitors and produce revenue for the state."  Of special concern to the group's members are statements made by Kentucky Governor Steve Beshear earlier in the Summer that the park could be torn down and the space used for another option should a viable operator not be found.  
The deadline to submit proposals for operating the park is 4:30 pm October 19.