The Kentucky State Fair Board has signed a lease agreement with Ed Hart's Kentucky Kingdom Redevelopment Company, paving the way for the shuttered theme park to reopen in 2014.
Former owner Hart has secured $43.5 million in financing to fund the restoration of Kentucky Kingdom's rides and attractions, along with those in the Hurricane Bay water park. The new operator has promised "the biggest expansion in Kentucky Kingdom's 25-year history", after a battle to reopen the park that has dragged on for several years.
Representatives of the Commonwealth of Kentucky, Metro Louisville, the Louisville Convention & Visitors Bureau, the Kentucky State Fair Board, and The Bank of Kentucky signed the agreements required for the park to reopen. The Kentucky Kingdom Redevelopment Company had previously reached a deal with the State Fair Board to take control of the park in 2011, but this subsequently collapsed.
Hart, however, is sure that this time the park really will reopen its gates, claiming that he is "110 percent" confident that the park will return to action on May 24, 2014. Standing just inside the front entrance to the park, he said: "The highlights of the new Kentucky Kingdom will be the addition of the first new rollercoaster in 17 years and a large expansion of the Hurricane Bay water park. We are doubling the size of the water park, adding three new waterslide complexes, a 12-000-square-foot wave lagoon, and an adventure river, which is six times faster than the existing lazy river. All in all, we will have one of the largest water parks in the region."
"We will also reopen such signature rides as the Thunder Run wooden coaster, the Mile High Falls giant spill ride, the 150-foot-tall Giant Wheel, the rapid river raft ride, and the Thrill Park Theatre, as well as all of the park’s remaining rides and attractions."
"We're not stopping there. In 2015, we will unveil a complete makeover of our suspended looping coaster, T2, and we are well on our way to converting the two intertwined wooden coasters known as Twisted Twins into a much superior ride, which will debut in 2016. We will continue to introduce new attractions each season. In fact, per our lease with the state, we have an obligation to invest as much as $2.5 million each year for as many as 70 years. That would equal an investment of more than $200 million, including our initial outlay of $43.5 million."
"Kentucky Kingdom has been closed for four long years. My partners and I are proud to announce our plans to spend $43.5 million to return the park to its former position as Kentucky’s number one paid tourist attraction."
Dr. Mark Lynn, Chairman of the State Fair Board commented: "Ed Hart and his partners, all respected local businesspersons, are the right people at the right time to restore Kentucky Kingdom to its previous success. A full-scale renovation of the park's more than 100 buildings and 40 rides is already underway."
The Kentucky Kingdom Redevelopment Company will provide $28.5 million of the budget, $10 million of which is in the form of a loan. The Bank of Kentucky will lend the remaining $15 million. Of the total budget, $36 million will be spent in the first year and $7.5 million in years two and three as the park "ramps up to its full potential".
Kentucky Kingdom has been closed since the end of the 2009 season, following a failure by former operator Six Flags to agree changes to the park's lease. The Fair Board claimed at the time that the company proposed that it pay no rent for the remaining nine years on the lease - instead offering a cut of any potential future profits.