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LOUISVILLE, KY. (WDRB) -- Bluegrass Boardwalk has dropped its plans to reopen the former Kentucky Kingdom.
"We entered into this discussion last October with full expectation of leasing the park," says Bluegrass Boardwalk CEO Natalie Koch in a news release. Her family owns and operates Holiday World in Santa Claus, Indiana. "However, we have come to the realization that leasing a park rather than owning it would take us too far from the business model my family has followed for more than 60 years."
Koch says the many layers of governmental regulations and requirements caused them to withdraw. She also says she and her partners believe reopening the park is worthwhile, and she wishes any future operator well.
"It's been a lifelong dream for my family to operate a second park," says Koch. "It's hard to walk away from what we believed was a winning partnership for Kentucky and our team. But at the end of the day, the terms of the project did not fit our business model. It was time to withdraw."
A letter terminating the proposed lease agreement was delivered to the Kentucky State Fair Board Friday afternoon.
A statement from the Kentucky State Fair Board says "We are disappointed with the announcement today from the Koch family about Bluegrass Boardwalk. The Fair Board remains committed to finding options for the amusement park and will assess the situation over the next few weeks."
Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer released the following statement saying "We are disappointed with today's news and will engage quickly with state officials to try and find a new partner for the park."
The state had already approved nearly $4 million in tax rebates for park owners, who were trying to finalize $15 million in finances before they opened the park in 2014.
On Wednesday, Bluegrass Boardwalk representative Mike Kamp told the media that they were optimistic about reopening the park.
"Right now there are no major obstacles that we can perceive, but you never know, a thunderstorm could blow in and you don't' know what will happen. We're very optimistic that we'll have clear sailings and blue skies in front of us," Mike Kamp said.
Bluegrass Boardwalk officials seemed positive about reopening Kentucky Kingdom, but made it very clear that they were still trying to finalize financing. They said the process was taking some time.
"Because we were used to working in private sector, and now it's a private sector marrying up, working with the government. And it's been a process that's a little bit slower than we're used to," Mike Kamp said.
Earlier, the Koch family had said the old Kentucky Kingdom property was in worse shape than anyone thought. When Six Flags closed Kentucky Kingdom three years ago, it apparently did so very haphazardly. In paperwork filed with Louisville's Metro Council, the Koch family said Six Flags abandoned the property without concern for future viability. Rides and attractions were left in the operating state instead of being winterized, at least 75 percent are inoperable, and all buildings had significantly deteriorated and needed painting and carpentry work. Perhaps most disgusting, restrooms were left with human waste.
Louisville developer Ed Hart had tried to put together a deal with the Kentucky State Fair Board to reopen Kentucky Kingdom, but negotiations fell through in September of 2011. "Had they accepted our plan," Hart told WDRB News back in May, "Kentucky Kingdom would be open as we speak."
Hart also had his own theory about why the Koch family wanted to run Bluegrass Boardwalk: "Maybe one of the explanations is the fact that a vibrant, thriving Kentucky Kingdom only draws attendance away from Holiday World." He said he understood that the Koch family might want to protect that facility. "There's nothing out there," he says, "especially in the Bluegrass Boardwalk plan that I see, that would take 11 months to fix."
The resurrection of the Kentucky Kingdom site was expected to pump millions into Louisville's economy.
On Friday, some Louisville residents reacted to the news saying that they were disappointed with the latest news.
"I feel bad because I think the children needs that park, because our children don't got nothing to do," says Derrick Brown.
"A lot of employment opportunities might have been missed," says Megan Bowden.