Fair Board approves proposed lease to reopen Kentucky Kingdom - WDRB 41 Louisville News

Fair Board approves proposed lease to reopen Kentucky Kingdom

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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- The Kentucky State Fair Board has signed a 50-year lease with developer Ed Hart re-open Kentucky Kingdom.

Hart said Thursday afternoon in a news release, "We are beginning immediately to mobilize our staff so they can get started on the tremendous amount of work that must be done to prepare Kentucky Kingdom for a May, 2014 opening.  We believe we are up to the task – and speaking on behalf of my partners and our management team, we look forward to the challenge."

Approval of the new lease agreement Thursday by the Fair Board means the park could open as early as 2014.

The investors, Kentucky Kingdom LLLP, now must secure the final private loans – worth $25 million -- before the park can open.

The investors have agreed to initially invest $45 million in the park, which has been closed since 2009.

"My partners and I are putting in $20 million dollars of equity, and we're arranging a $25 million dollar bank loan," says Ed Hart.

Before that happens, there's still another step in this process.

"We have to wait for the tourism tax credits to be approved. That's an integral part of the whole financing package and that I understand will take 2 to 3 months," says Ed Hart.

Hart says on Thursday his group filed its application, asking for $10 million dollars in tourism tax credits.

The Mayor and other city officials voiced their support for the project Thursday afternoon.

Total, the city and convention bureau will be contributing between 2 and 2.5 million dollars.

On Thursday evening, this was brought before Metro Council with a first reading.

"We had two false starts and as a whole, we didn't feel like we could sit back and wait for strike three and we had to do something to make clear that the council wanted it reopened," says Jim King.

State Representative Jim Wayne, whose district includes Kentucky Kingdom, says he's just glad a compromise was worked out that didn't include using money from the state's general fund. He says reopening the park is a win-win for everyone.

"Because it will generate more jobs. The tourism industry will benefit with the expansion of jobs and restaurants, hotels," says Representative Jim Wayne, House District 35.

"This agreement is great news for the families who will visit Kentucky Kingdom and will certainly be a shot in the arm for local and regional tourism," said Gov. Steve Beshear. "This lease will also mean hundreds of jobs as well as much-needed income for the Fair Board.  We are pleased that we were able to reach a mutually agreeable lease so the park can reopen as quickly as possible."

The Fair Board and Kentucky Kingdom investors agreed to a 50-year lease after the state issued a request last year seeking proposals to reopen the park. Kentucky Kingdom LLLP was the only entity to submit a proposal. The lease includes a provision that will allow for the expansion of the water park at Kentucky Kingdom.  The state's Finance and Administration Cabinet negotiated the lease.

"This lease agreement is a fair deal for both our state taxpayers and for the investors seeking to operate the park," said outgoing board chairman Ron Carmicle.  "The lease protects taxpayers from shouldering private debt and ensures that the park operators have every opportunity to succeed.  As soon as the private financing is finalized, the countdown begins to a reopened and reinvigorated tourist attraction."

The rental income starts at $475,000 the first year for the Fair Board and will increase by $50,000 a year for the first 15 years of the agreement.

Kentucky Kingdom is required to spend $13 million in 2013 and 2014 to get the park open. It must spend another $7 million on the park through the 2016 season. After 2017, it must spend at least $1 million annually on the park.

Kentucky Kingdom will seek state tourism development incentives through the Kentucky Tourism Development Finance Authority.

Starting in February, Hart says his management team will be on property at Kentucky Kingdom to start getting the park ready to reopen next May.

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