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Kentucky Kingdom entrance

The former owner of the Kentucky Kingdom theme park has been selected to replace Six Flags as its operator, after the State Fair Board unanimously approved the deal on Thursday.

Ed Hart, who rescued the park from bankruptcy in 1989, is set to take over its operation with the newly-formed KK Redevelopment Company. The Fair Board will aim to reach an agreement with Hart by July 31 for the lease of the land on which Kentucky Kingdom sits, which could allow it to reopen in 2011.

Both Hart and the Fair Board still face significant challenges in funding the return of Kentucky Kingdom. The Fair Board's CEO, Harold Workman, has claimed that upgrading the the theme park and its associated Splashwater Kingdom water park could cost as much as $20 million. Hart will contribute just $3 million of this, with the Fair Board seeking to raise the rest through a bond issue.

The fate of the park's attractions is also unclear, with the Fair Board still locked in a legal dispute with Six Flags over their ownership. The former operator also owns 15 acres of the Kentucky Kingdom site, which the Fair Board will look to purchase. It hopes to have both issues settled within the next 30 days, according to the Courier-Journal.

Hart's company was selected as the best of two bids submitted to the Fair Board, with his existing links to Kentucky Kingdom likely to have played a major role. Along with a group of investors, Hart previously operated the park between 1989 and 1997, when it was sold to Premier Parks for $64 million. It reopened as Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom in 1998, after Premier Parks acquired and subsequently rebranded itself as Six Flags, Inc.

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.

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