Louisville, Kentucky, USA
1987 to 2010
Opened as Kentucky Kingdom - became a Six Flags property in 1998
Scheduled to reopen as
On December 12, 1985, Dallas amusement park designer Michael Jenkins announced plans for Kentucky Kingdom, a $12 million private investment theme park with buildings designed to resemble Churchill Downs and the Victorian homes of Old Louisville. Built on 12 acres leased from the Kentucky Fair and Exhibition Center, the park was targeted for an audience within an 80-mile radius of Louisville. It would be the first amusement park in Louisville since Fontaine Ferry Park closed in 1967.
The park's trial opening on May 23, 1987 had the usual problems to be expected in opening a new theme park. The trial was run with more than 6,000 Girl Scouts and their relatives, and many said they liked the rides, and adults were pleased with the cleanliness of the restrooms and grounds, many commenting that the park was well laid out and attractive. But all were unhappy with long lines for both rides and food. These complaints lead to fears that Kentucky Kingdom might be too small for the market, but managers expected the problems would be resolved by the grand opening a week later.
After the official opening, attendance was less than expected, and although attendance picked up by August, Kentucky Kingdom Inc. began having cash-flow problems.
The first signs of problems came in a $21,100 suit by a painting contractor for failure to pay for services. Kentucky Kingdom's general manager, Doran Carrell, admitted the park had gone over budget in construction, and even more contractors were still owed money. But new investors were sought to help pay off debts. But shortly thereafter a foreclosure suit filed by another contractor who was owed over &95,000. Four other liens totaling $981,758 were also filed. Carrell claimed the park was not in danger, and the new investors would settle the matters within weeks.
But my mid-August the suits, and debts, were still piling up. The park was late in paying its August rent to the state, and the July rent had only just been paid in early August. Claims of a new investor who would save the day continued.
On October 5, 1987, Kentucky Kingdom Inc. filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, and the park ended it's weekend operations for the season. The petition listed $1.9 million in debts to their 20 largest creditors as well as 400 other companies and individuals involved in the construction of the park. By November the acknowledged debt was $3.6 million.
In February 1988 a federal bankruptcy judge declared the park a Chapter 7 bankruptcy case, clearing the way to liquidate the parks assets at the request of the parks largest creditor, Bank of Canada.
The Kentucky Kingdom did not open in 1988, but by May of that year there were reports of at least 3 groups seeking to reopen the park. The Kentucky Fair Board had control of the park, and began seeking bids for operating the park that summer, rather than liquidation. The wrangling over the park was complex, but all parties seemed to think it was still viable.
In April 1989 a new lease was awarded to 227+1 Ltd., a groups of park creditor headed by Louisville businessman Ed Hart, although ownership of the rides was still in question; an auction had already been scheduled. It was hoped that the park would open for the 11 day Kentucky State fair in August, then reopen for full season beginning in 1990. The ten year lease was rent free for the first 5 years (unless the park reached a specific gross income), with the Fair Board getting 50% of the parking receipts.
Despite the new lease, the sale of 10 rides an buildings was completed April 15. But 227+1 Ltd. began looking for replacements. Costs again began to rise.
Of the original rides, only the Starchaser roller coaster remained. New rides were leased ("at least 12 major ones and several 'spectacular' ones"), and the Fair Board increased the leased land ares to 28 acres. More land, more concessions and new and better rides were to be the key to success. That, and a sweeter lease deal...
No longer a collection of carnival rides, Kentucky Kingdom was now to be a "major theme park" with at least $5 million in improvements. Additional rides would include a boomerang coaster (Vampire) and a new woodie, Thunder Run. Grand opening was set for June 1, 1990.
Despite bad weather that delayed the opening and added to rode construction costs, the park had a relatively successful 1990 season, and actually turned a profit.
1991 saw season pass sales go from 200 to 5000, 300,000 attendance, and plans for a $13.5 million expansion. In 1992 over 14,000 passes were sold, and the Hurricane Bay water park opened. The park was now the "fastest growing amusement park in North America" and had 26 rides.
The park continued to do well. A Vekoma inverted, T2, was added in 1995. Chang, at the time the world's tallest and longest stand-up roller coaster, was added in 1997, and attendance topped 1 million.
And the industry was watching. In September of 1997 Premier Parks Inc. announced it was purchasing the park, renaming it Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom the next year. 1998 also saw the addition of Twisted Sisters, bill as the world's first dueling wood coaster.
The park continued to do well, but Six Flags fortunes were beginning to fade. In 2007 Six Flags decided not to open the section of the park were the Twisted Twins (formerly Twisted Sisters) roller coaster and Mile High Falls waster ride were located. Then a big blow hit the Louisville park that same year: a cable broke on the park's Intamin drop tower (Superman Tower of Power) during a ride cycle and severed a 13 year-old girl's legs at the ankles. The ride was removed the next year. While not directly related, the chain filed for bankruptcy itself in June 2009.
Finally, on February 4, 2010, Six Flags announced it was closing the 59-acre park due to an inability to negotiate a more favorable lease. The Kentucky State Fair Board said the announcement took them by complete surprise.
Four operators have expressed interest is reopening the park, so as of February 2010 it is possible that Kentucky Kingdom will open for the 2010 season, but questions of ride ownership remain, as park land is a mix of Kentucky Fair Board and Six Flags ownership. SO the date of Louisville only amusement park is still unknown...
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ATRA News February 4, 2010
Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom Is Closing!
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