We got a media alert yesterday afternoon from executives at Holiday World, where the Koch family is trying to negotiate a deal Kentucky State Fairboard officials to take over Kentucky Kingdom.
Members of the Koch family, who just formed Bluegrass Boardwalk, Inc., are scheduled to “speak briefly” Thursday about re-opening Louisville’s amusement and water park in 2013 after the Kentucky State Fair Board considers a proposed lease agreement Thursday afternoon.
If the presser happens, it will be the first time the Kochs have said anything publicly other than releasing vague press releases since Insider Lousiville broke the story of their moves to take over the shuttered 60-acre theme park on the edge of the Kentucky State Fair and Exposition Center.
There’s all sorts of chatter about this proposal including curiosity about what impact a reopened Kentucky Kingdom will have on Holiday World, which is only about 80 miles from Louisville and survives almost entirely off the Greater Louisville/Southern Indiana region.
After Kentucky Kingdom closed in 2010, Holiday World had a record year. We don’t see how cannibalizing the Louisville market helps Holiday World. When it gets down to it, their customer base is about 1.8 million people, and splitting customer loyalty between two parks so close to each other makes no sense.
But, hey, that’s just us.
Any way you look at it, the Kochs’ deal won’t get the park open until 2014, which means it may be off-line for as long as five years. Moreover, if all the economic and environmental impact studies take longer than expected, and they always do, then who knows when or even if Kentucky Kingdom will open again.
And all that time, Holiday World would have the Louisville market to itself without having to spend the tens of millions of dollars it will take to reopen Kentucky Kingdom.
(This is for you devilishly handsome/stunningly beautiful television reporters so you’ll have some conceptual clues while formulating possible lines of questioning.)
The positive part of the Koch’s plan – and they run a heck of a park in Santa Claus, Ind., according to my daughters – is they won’t ask the state to guarantee debt issues. By contrast, Ed Hart – Kentucky Kingdom’s Baby Daddy, as our Brian Tucker always calls him – wanted backing for $50 million in bonds to upgrade Kentucky Kingdom into a regional theme park after Six Flags walked away.
But there are inherent negatives in the Kochs not asking for state-backed loan guarantees including lack of transparency and much more modest plans for the park.
One of the biggest differences I sense in how this deal is going – and reopening the park should be a priority for this city in summer youth jobs, hotel rooms and regional travel – is the Kochs’ style. They say little and reveal less. There is no political dynamic in their dealings with Kentucky officials unlike Hart, who has donated massive amounts of money to Democratic candidates including biz partner Bruce Lunsford even though Hart is a registered Independent.
Love him or hate him, Ed Hart will talk for hours about what he wants to do with Kentucky Kingdom and how he plans to do it. His deal died because Hart has enemies in Frankfort, not because it wasn’t a sound proposal. Hell, even Kentucky State Fair Board President and CEO Harold Workman said time and time again that Hart’s the best person to reopen the park. And Workman and Hart aren’t exactly buddies, having had some strident disagreements during the last 20 months of rangling.
THEN, throw in the variable of the possible forced exit of Workman. Yesterday, Courier-Journal reporter Tom Loftus got a major scoop, reporting Gov. Steve Beshear is marshaling allies to give Workman the boot for reasons unknown. (Why, oh why do we think Larry Clark is behind this?)
Internal wrangling among state officials could complicate any deal or even revive the Hart proposals because the state of Kentucky owns most, if not all, of the land under the rides and water park.
Four members of the Koch* family in Santa Claus, Indiana, have formed a new company – Bluegrass Boardwalk, Incorporated – to negotiate the lease agreement with the Kentucky State Fair Board, secure financing, and apply for economic development incentives from the Commonwealth of Kentucky. No public monies will be requested from the Kentucky Legislature by Bluegrass Boardwalk, Incorporated.
The members of the Koch family involved in discussions with the Kentucky State Fair Board as Bluegrass Boardwalk, Incorporated are Holiday World president Dan Koch, his sister Natalie Koch, their cousin Kathy Kamp, and her husband, Michael Kamp, who is a General Manager at Holiday World. Dan, Natalie and Kathy are grandchildren of Holiday World’s founder, Louis J. Koch, who opened the park (originally called Santa Claus Land) in 1946.
Following Thursday’s Fair Board meeting, Dan Koch will be on hand to speak briefly with members of the news media in front of Freedom Hall at the Kentucky Exposition Center.
As updates about Bluegrass Boardwalk are made public, information will be posted online at http://BluegrassBoardwalk.com, on Facebook: http://Facebook.com/BluegrassBoardwalk and via Twitter: @BluegrassBwalk.