Kentucky Kingdom to be sold to national park operator | In-depth

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) – The local group that owns the Kentucky Kingdom-Hurricane Bay amusement and water park plans to sell it to a “big player” in the theme park business after a punishing drop in business during the pandemic, state officials said Monday.

While state officials did not reveal the new owner, the operating company that plans to assume Kentucky Kingdom’s lease on state property is registered in Georgia with an address matching that of Herschend Family Entertainment, which operates theme parks and other attractions in multiple states.

The company’s properties include Newport Aquarium in northern Kentucky and Dollywood in Pigeon Forge, Tenn. 

Herschend hasn’t returned a call and email placed Friday. Ed Hart, who leads the Kentucky Kingdom ownership group, hasn’t returned calls since Friday about the potential sale.

But Hart and representatives of the new owner are scheduled to appear with Gov. Andy Beshear and Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer at a press conference on Tuesday morning, in which they will announce “an exciting new partnership surrounding the future of Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay Amusement and Water Park in Louisville (that) will bring enhanced entertainment and amusement park management experience to the park.”  

Two state boards on Monday signed off on approvals needed for the new operator to take over the amusement and water park that is on state land in Louisville.

“It’s going to be really a savior for the entity as it is there, because Kentucky Kingdom suffered really greatly during this pandemic,” said J. Michael Brown, Beshear’s executive cabinet secretary, during a meeting of the Kentucky State Property and Buildings Commission.

Brown said attendance at Kentucky Kingdom dipped to “at points 20%” of normal levels last year. 

“This partner came along at exactly the right time,” Brown said.

Officials described the company as a sophisticated operator of nine amusement or theme parks across the country, one that is in a “stronger financial position” than the current ownership group.

“We found that the prospective transferee has a very good level of experience in the amusement park industry. They have operations in several states,” said Libby Carlin, executive director of the Kentucky Finance and Administration Cabinet.

Carlin added that the new ownership group is contemplating “expanding the park’s operating season with themed events and festivals.”

“Also, they there were mentions of building in enhancements to focus on building an appeal to multi-generational families and introducing new programs and events,” she said, without elaborating on the proposed enhancements.

Brian Thomas, general counsel for the Finance and Administration Cabinet, said the sale involves a “base price” paid up front for Kentucky Kingdom, but the “overall sale price” will be determined by the park’s profitability in the three years following the acquisition. He did not share figures.

The new owner will also retain one of the partners in the current ownership group on a consulting contract for three years, Carlin said, without specifying the partner.

Hart’s group reopened Kentucky Kingdom in 2013 after the park sat vacant for four years following its abandonment by national theme park operator Six Flags. Hart and his partners, including attorney Ed Glasscock and hotel owner the Al J. Schneider Co., invested about $43 million to restore and expand the park.

Glasscock and Al J. Schneider Co. CEO Scott Shoenberger referred questions to Hart.

This story may be updated.

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