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Hart: Holiday World owners used 'delaying tactics'

Hart: Holiday World owners used 'delaying tactics'

by Joe Arnold

WHAS11.com

Posted on June 17, 2012 at 9:19 PM

Updated Monday, Jun 18 at 6:54 AM

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WHAS11) -- One day after Bluegrass Boardwalk CEO Natalie Koch dismissed as "absurd" the suggestion that Holiday World's owners were involved in a bid to operate a shuttered Louisville amusement park to stem competition to its Indiana property, the suggestion surfaced again on Sunday night.

Former Kentucky Kingdom owner Ed Hart, whose effort to reopen the park was unilaterally ended by the Kentucky State Fair Board in September, 2011, repeated his assertion of "Holiday World's delaying tactics," in a statement to WHAS11 News.

"These delaying tactics have resulted in our community having to wait until at least 2014 for the 1,000 jobs and other economic benefits associated with an open and vibrant Kentucky Kingdom," Hart said.

"The owners of Holiday World would seem to have two objectives: 1) to either reduce Kentucky Kingdom to a small water park to reduce its effectiveness in competing with Holiday World or 2) at least delay the opening of Kentucky Kingdom so Holiday World does not have to compete with it for some time to come.  It would seem that the owners of Holiday World have achieved these objectives," the statement reads.

"The only comment I would have is those people don't know us," Koch said on Saturday.  "They don't know how many hours we've spent on this project and how deeply involved we were."

Koch said her family was deep into planning when it pulled the plug on the deal, including maps of where rides, "Pepsi stations" and employee parking would be located.

"And for anyone to think that we meant ill or we were intending to cause harm, it's just absurd," Koch said.  "It's just absurd.  Our family is not that way.  We try to do the best for the community here and we would have done the same in Louisville.  And I can tell you the countless hours that we spent we wouldn't have done if that was the case."

The Koch family, owners of the Holiday World amusement park in Santa Claus, Indiana, entered into conversations with the Kentucky State Fair Board regarding the former Six Flags property in October, 2011, one month after the Kentucky State Fair Board cut ties with the ownership group led by Hart.

Six Flags announced it was closing the amusement and "Hurricane Bay" water park in February, 2010. 

As late as Wednesday, after Kentucky approved $3.9 million in tax incentives for Bluegrass Boardwalk to operate the park, the Koch group indicated no reservations about their plan.

“Right now there are no major obstacles we can foresee”, Mike Kamp, General Manager of Holiday World, said Wednesday.

But at a meeting Friday, Natalie Koch told WHAS11 that she and three other board members decided that there was too much uncertainty surrounding re-opening Kentucky Kingdom because the company would be leasing rather than owning the property.

Koch said the board felt the process of getting the financial incentives and accessing the park property had been slower than they were accustomed to as independent operators.

“The longer it took, the more concerned we got that this might be an indication of what's going on in the future," Koch said.

Hart is also repeating his criticism of the Kentucky State Fair Board, which he has also sued after it ended his working agreement to operate Kentucky Kingdom.

"Regarding the Fair Board, it is interesting that they have never explained why they stopped negotiating with us, yet were ready to sign a less favorable deal with Holiday World which then made the Fair Board victim to Holiday World's delaying tactics," Hart said in the statement. "These delaying tactics have resulted in our community having to wait until at least 2014 for the 1,000 jobs and other economic benefits associated with an open and vibrant Kentucky Kingdom."

Koch was asked - regardless of intent or lack of intent - whether she believes that any delay to reopening Kentucky Kingdom helps Holiday World by lessening regional competition.

"I don't know," Koch replied.  "There's a new park coming into Nashville, theres a park in Kentucky,  there's plenty of parks in Ohio.  I really dont feel like that creates any greater or less competition for us.  I think even with a thriving park in Louisville, we would continue to thrive (at Holiday World).  We have plenty of markets that we still have not tapped.  We have not gone too far West ."

"I hope the park in Louisville opens," Koch continued.

Koch said she does not anticipate a backlash from disappointed Louisville customers.

"I feel bad for the people of Louisville and I think we could have done a great job, but I think people who have been here and know our family and how we treat our guests and our community will understand," Koch said.  "I dont thnk it will leave a bad impression.  I really dont.  We negotiated in great faith. We were very hopeful. I had every confidence that it was going to work for us."

Hart also lashed out at Kentucky tourism officials.

"Also to consider is the fact that the state's tourism cabinet has recently approved two tourism tax credit applications --  one for the Ark Park and one for Bluegrass Boardwalk -- neither of which has broken ground. Yet, the tourism cabinet would not approve our application even though we had committed the substantial sum of more than $29 million to the park.  Had our offer been accepted Kentucky Kingdom would be open today."

Asked on Friday if he was still interested in operating the amusement park, Hart had no comment.
 

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