The Kentucky State Fair Board has admitted that it has no chance of finding a new operator for the closed Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom theme park in time for it to reopen in 2010.
However, the President of the Fair Board, Howard Workman, did express confidence that a deal can be struck that would see the park return to operations in 2011. The board is said to be expecting proposals from as many as three potential suitors, and hopes to achieve a tentative agreement with one of them by mid-summer.
Workman also revealed that State Fair Board has started litigation proceedings against Six Flags, after the company removed headline rollercoaster Chang from the park in September last year. The board alleges that Six Flags went back on a promise to expand the Splashwater Kingdom water park to compensate for the loss of Chang, and is seeking financial damages or the return of the dismantled coaster to the park. The court which oversaw Six Flags' recent exit from bankruptcy will preside over the case.
The battle over Chang continues an ongoing disagreement between the state and Six Flags over ownership of Kentucky Kingdom's rides. The Fair Board filed a motion with the bankruptcy court in February claiming that the rides are considered fixtures to the state's land, which Six Flags leased from it. Six Flags disputed this, although CEO Mark Shapiro recently indicated that a compromise had been reached whereby the company would leave the rides in place while the Fair Board attempts to find a new operator for the park.
In a TV interview with WHAS11 (embedded below), Workman blames the park's failure to attract visitors on a lack of investment by Six Flags. Kentucky Kingdom's attendance halved in the period between Six Flags taking it over in 1997 and its closure, falling from 1.2 million to between 500,000 and 600,000. This contrasts with nearby Holiday World, which has seen a doubling in its own attendance during the same period following the installation of a number of high profile new attractions.
The Fair Board hopes to attract a new operator with money to spend, with the loss of the park estimated to have cost the Louisville economy in the region of $10 million in 2010. He said: "Number one is, you want to make sure you have a top flight operator that has the financial resources to support the operation." This could involve spending "millions of dollars" on upgrading the theme park and expanding the water park.
Six Flags announced the closure of Kentucky Kingdom in January, following a failure to agree changes to the park's lease. The Fair Board claims that Six Flags proposed that it pay no rent for the 9 remaining years on the lease - instead offering the state a cut of any potential future profits.
The company, which runs an extensive chain of parks across North America, initially said that it intended to move many of Kentucky Kingdom's rides to those parks and to offer employees the chance to relocate.