Hot Springs Theme Park Magic Springs Doubles Attendance

by Mark Hengel  on Monday, Mar. 10, 2008 12:00 am  

President and General Manager Dan Aylward has doubled attendance at Magic Springs & Crystal Falls in Hot Springs over the past five years.

Pete Herschend, owner of Silver Dollar City, said Magic Springs' growth under Aylward has been impressive. The two have known each other professionally about 20 years.

"Any property that doubles in attendance in five years is doing something right," Herschend said, adding that Aylward's feat was even more impressive because he achieved it after Sept. 11, 2001.

"If you have a good product and pay attention to the customers - as Dan does - and cause repeat business, then you'll do fine. If you don't generate repeat business, you'll lose your job."

Aylward said Timberwood Amphi-theater generates repeat businss.

Local residents attend the summer-long concert series and church youth groups from the region attend Christian-themed weekend events. Hot Springs Village residents, mainly retirees, have become fixtures at the concerts thanks to the blanket admission included in season park passes, Aylward said.

"We're incredibly affordable. It costs $49.99 for a season pass. That's the price of one concert ticket," he said.

A Christian youth group event brought 18,000 visitors on one day, the park's attendance record. This season's calendar includes two similar weekends.

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When Themeparks LLC, owned by Ed Hart and four passive investors, bought Magic Springs in 1999, Hart said he wanted to duplicate his success at turning around Kentucky Kingdom in Louisville. Hart purchased that park in 1988, and the park attracted only 137,000 visitors in its first year under his ownership. His company sold it in 1997, when attendance reached 1.3 million. Premier Parks Inc. paid $64 million, according to SEC records.

Hart said he and the other investors saw the same growth opportunity in Magic Springs.

"Kentucky Kingdom, like Magic Springs, had run on hard times," he said in an interview. "We didn't create the previous problems; we just alleviated the previous owners of [the parks]."

Themeparks sold the Magic Springs property last year to a real estate investment company in Florida for $20 million, according to SEC records. The deal is a sale-leaseback, with Magic Springs Development Co. still operating the park. The lease is for 20 years, with options allowing Magic Springs to extend the lease for another 20. The sale price roughly equals the original purchase price, Hart said, but would not give specifics. Hart said the sale was done to increase capital investment and separate himself and the other investors from the park's day-to-day management.



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