by Jim Lovel
Posted 4/26/1999 12:00 am
Updated 11 months ago
"There has never been a project that involved as much cooperation," Gov. Mike Huckabee said of the project at a press conference last week. "This is a measure of extraordinary faith."
The park will undergo a $21 million renovation during the next year and is scheduled to reopen in the early summer of 2000. The money is being provided through a combination of sources.
Magic Springs Development Co. of Louisville, Ky., plans to invest about $10 million to refurbish the existing rides at the park, add at least eight new family rides and six new children's rides. The company also will build a 5-acre water theme park and an amphitheater. It has committed to investing an additional $3 million for new attractions during the first two seasons the park is open, including a new roller coaster.
Michael Fallot, vice president of the company, says the financial commitments from the state made the project feasible. A study by Economics Research Associates, a company that specializes in studies for major theme parks and tourist attractions, supported the investment, he says.
"Magic Springs is a great opportunity," Fallot says.
Another $6.5 million for the renovation will come from a bond issue if voters in Hot Springs approve the idea in a May 25 election. The Arkansas Department of Economic Development and the Arkansas Development Finance Authority will guarantee $2.3 million of the bond issue. Other bonds could be issued during the next several years to finance new development in the park.
Bob Mathis, the mayor of Hot Springs, says the residents of Hot Springs will approve the bond issue.
"It is a dream come true for the citizens of Hot Springs," Mathis says. "We are positive that the election results will provide the impetus towards Hot Springs becoming a greater tourist destination not only for Arkansas but for the surrounding states as well."
The ADED is providing two grants totaling $4.5 million for the park's renovation. The grants were made possible by recent restructuring of the state's Tourism Development Act which allows the state to assist companies that develop projects to attract tourists. Studies show that the park could attract at least 300,000 visitors in its first year and increase to about 450,000 by 2004.
Barbara Pardue, executive director of ADED, described the negotiations as a "roller coaster ride" that illustrated the state's renewed commitment to tourism as a form of economic development.
Magic Springs will create 30 new full-time jobs and an additional 500 jobs during the months that the park is open. If the number of people expected to visit the park is correct, Magic Springs could add about $6.6 million annually to the state's economy, Pardue says.
The amusement park will be the largest single tourist attraction in the state and will provide an economic benefit beyond Hot Springs, Huckabee says.
"It's a new day for tourism in Arkansas," he says. "It will be the most extraordinary tourist attraction this state has ever had."
Magic Springs Development Co. did a similar project in Kentucky in 1990 when it bought the bankrupt Kentucky Kingdom amusement park on the grounds of the Kentucky State Fair in Louisville. During the next seven years, the company spent about $72 million on rides and other attractions making the park the state's largest tourist attraction. The company sold the park to Six Flags Theme Parks Inc. in 1997. Now known as Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, the park had an attendance of about 1.3 million last year and drew visitors from Cincinnati, Indianapolis and Nashville, Tenn., all within 175 miles of Louisville.
Magic Springs first opened in 1979 and amassed more than $10 million in debt. The park was sold to a group of investors led by businessman Melvyn Bell in 1986 before it was closed in 1995. The park has remained idle since, and many of the facilities have been damaged by vandals.
Fitraco N.V., a Belgian company, acquired the park in a foreclosure sale last year. Fitraco initiated the contact with Fallot and his company that led to the deal to renovate and reopen the park. Magic Springs Development Co. will buy the 147 acres and lease the four existing rides from Fitraco.
- Jim Lovel