LOUISVILLE, Ky. - The group behind the comeback of Kentucky Kingdom announced expansion plans Thursday that include erecting a new roller coaster and doubling the size of the water park in hopes of turning the now-shuttered amusement park into a popular regional attraction.
"We're going to be building a bigger, a better and a wetter theme park," said Ed Hart, who heads the operating group.
The new steel coaster and expanded Hurricane Bay water park will be ready in time for the reopening, set for May 2014, he said. It's part of a strategy to win over visitors and keep them coming back to a park that's been closed since 2009.
"The first impression is the lasting impression," Hart said.
Park operators estimate that first-year attendance will be in the 700,000 to 1 million range, he said. Attendance peaked at slightly more than 1.3 million in 1998.
The expansion plans were announced shortly after state and local officials and others signed agreements required for the park's reopening.
Kentucky State Fair Board Chairman Mark Lynn said that Hart and his partners are "the right people at the right time to restore Kentucky Kingdom to its previous success."
Lynn said a full-scale renovation of the park's more than 100 buildings and 40 rides is under way. The park is on state fair board property.
Hart's partners in the venture include prominent businessmen Ed Glasscock and Bruce Lunsford and the Al J. Schneider Co.
The group plans to spend $43.5 million on the park in the coming three years, including $36 million in the first year, Hart said. Those first-year expenditures will include $12 million to expand the water park and $7 million to install the new roller coaster.
The larger water park will feature three new waterslide complexes, a 12,000-square-foot wave lagoon and an adventure river.
The partners in Kentucky Kingdom LLLP will provide $28.5 million in capital for revamping the park in the first three years, he said. The group secured a $15 million bank loan.
In 2015, the park plans to unveil a makeover of its suspended looping coaster. The park also plans to upgrade the two intertwined wooden coasters known as Twisted Twins, with a 2016 debut planned. The park will offer new attractions every year, Hart said.
The park's operators won approval for millions in tax and other incentives to help jump start the attraction's revival.
The park was a summer fixture for years in Louisville and a big employer of seasonal teenage workers.
The park last operated in 2009. Six Flags Inc. announced the park's closure in February 2010 while reorganizing in bankruptcy court. Multiple plans and attempts to reopen the park fell apart until the Hart-led group pulled a deal together. Hart operated the amusement park for nearly a decade in the 1990s.
Kentucky Kingdom will face stiff competition from two established amusement parks in the region — Holiday World at Santa Claus, Ind., and Kings Island near Cincinnati.
Hart didn't reveal his park's admission prices, citing competitive reasons, but said: "Our goal is to be the most affordable theme park in the region."