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Hart 'does not expect' return to Ky Kingdom, earliest re-open date is 2014

by Joe Arnold


Posted on June 19, 2012 at 4:35 PM

Updated Tuesday, Jun 19 at 4:36 PM

LOUISVILLE, Ky (WHAS11) -- In carefully worded responses, former Kentucky Kingdom owner Ed Hart is not ruling out a return to the Fairgrounds theme park, yet is also giving no indication that he is interested in returning to the negotiations that ended ten months ago.

"I don't expect a phone call," Hart told WHAS11.

After Holiday World's owners suddenly withdrew from their Bluegrass Boardwalk plans on Friday, the Kentucky State Fair Board said two national theme park operators have inquired about taking over Kentucky Kingdom.

"Our only problem with the Holiday World situation which is now really the Holiday World debacle is that it would be reduced," Hart explained.  "The park that we built that was the number one tourist attraction - would be reduced to a small water park -- that was unacceptable from my point of view, so I have been lobbying against that."

"But if (Fair Board President Harold Workman) and the Fair Board can identify a national operator, I mean if they get Busch to come in here or Disney or Universal, I think that's wonderful," Hart said.

Hart, who negotiated with the Fair Board until August, 2011, was asked if he would be interested in restarting talks if the other operators do not reach a deal.

"Nobody's called me," Hart responded.  "If they did, I would certainly take their call but I don't expect a phone call."

On Monday, Workman said he did not expect Hart or the Koch family to be involved in future discussions.

"We've already dealt with those and we don't anticipate that they will be coming back to the table," Workman told WHAS11.

Yet if Hart approached the Fair Board?

"Well, I've never closed the door on anyone," Workman replied.

"Well again, I would certainly take his phone call," Hart said when told of Workman's comments.

Hart said he wants to offer advice and assistance to anyone interested in returning the amusement park he built to its former glory.  The fair board has not revealed the names of the theme park operators who contacted them.

"Let me first say I am really excited about the news that Mr. Workman has several national theme park operators ready to go," Hart said.  "That is really exciting news."

The Fair Board told WHAS11 that two theme park operators have inquired about Kentucky Kingdom - but did not say they were "ready to go."

Hart says his aim is that someone reopens and operates the full theme park -- not a scaled down water park.

"If they get Busch to come in here or Disney or Universal, I think that's wonderful."

With neither Hart or Workman indicating a plan to contact the other, what about the future?  How soon could a new operator reopen Kentucky Kingdom?

"Even the Koch's indicated they couldn't open until '14," Workman said, "and we're here in the middle of '12.  If someone comes along that wanted to get into it right away, it could still be open in '14."

Hart agreed that 2014 is the earliest the park could reopen given what he knows about his previous effort, the Kentucky Kingdom Redevelopment Corporation, to reopen the park.

"It took us over a year - technicians on hand - it took us over a year to do all the diagnostics necessary to figure out what every building needed to be repaired, what every ride needed to be repaired, that is a lengthy process," Hart explained.  "We already did all that. So we had a jump start. that's why we were ready to go.  We had our money, we were ready to go."

"Anybody else that comes in has to start over again," Hart continued.

"Other operators will look at it and say, 'Wow these are great bones.'  And we're proud of those bones. We built those bones. It takes passion, money and experience to open this," Hart said.

Yet before the page is turned to a new operator, Hart does not want Louisville to forget about the Holiday World chapter in Kentucky Kingdom history.

"Outside looking in, we know two facts," Hart said.  "Holiday World benefited and the park is still closed."

Natalie Koch, the would-be Bluegrass Boardwalk CEO has dismissed Hart's contention that the Holiday World owners' interest in Louisville was to protect their Santa Claus, Indiana property.  Holiday World reported a 14 percent attendance increase in 2010, the first season without Kentucky Kingdom as a regional competitor.

"We negotiated in great faith," Koch said in a WHAS11 interview on Saturday.  "We were very hopeful. I had every confidence that it was going to work for us."

"They negotiated in good faith," Workman said.  "They're great people to work with."

Hart said Workman has little choice in his response to the Bluegrass Boardwalk failure.

"Of course Harold and the Fair Board maybe is going to protect Holiday World," Hart argued, "Because if they don't, they look pretty foolish that they were taken.  And there's no doubt in my mind that they were taken."

Hart said if called upon by the mayor or the fair board, he would volunteer his time and experience to help reopen Kentucky Kingdom.

"It's not about Ed Hart, it's about seeing Kentucky Kingdom open," he said. "And if a national operator can do that, I'm all for it."

Asked if he would consider partnering with a new operator, Hart did not rule it out.

"I think you're way ahead of the curve," he said.