Back to the Thrill – Hart Has Kentucky Kingdom Going Strong

In the world of business, it’s a bit of a thrill to interact with a big personality like Ed Hart. He was the featured speaker today at Business First’s What’s Brewing Breakfast. Normally these events feature a panel of two or three rather important business folks, but Hart easily carried the banter on his own with host Cary Stemle.

Ed Hart during our interview for the Rusty Satellite Show
Ed Hart during our interview for the Rusty Satellite Show

Listen to my interview with Hart from Dec. 2013 on the Rusty Satellite Show

Hart is the architect behind Kentucky Kingdom, Part 3. He’s the one who resurrected the park in the 1990s, made it the top tourist destination in the state, sold it, watched the buyers run it into the ground, then fought for several years to get it reopened. Along with way, he won a lawsuit against a TV station over a false report, a historic verdict that took 12 years to run through the appeals process.

And today, after a lengthy intro to accommodate all those accomplishments, Hart explained how Kentucky Kingdom is on the verge of another record-setting run of success, with eight new rides opening this season and an expected expansion of the park’s appeal to outer markets.

Ever the optimist, Hart explained that while season pass sales are down slightly, he expects to make up the difference in attendance with expanded reach. And he said that of the 117,000 season passes sold a year ago, 10,000 were never used and another 22,000 were used just once. In Hart’s logical mind, many of those who bought season passes and didn’t use them a year ago will come to the park at least once this time.

“We are the thrill park, the place to ride,” he said.

Hart’s humor wasn’t lost on the crowd. He talked about last year’s controversial incident in which a park employee asked a breast-feeding patron to move to a more private location, resulting in an eruption of bad press from mother’s groups across the country. Hart himself took on the P.R. for that one, explaining that after the park made it clear that breast-feeding moms are welcome, he touted it as the “Breast Theme Park” in the land.

He also acknowledged that the previous operator, Six Flags, had earned a negative reputation, especially in the city’s East End. “It took the East End longer to embrace the park,” he said. “The park did not have a good reputation the last 10 years. We have 25-30 safety officers on duty at all times now.”

And when he warned Stemle that he would dodge some questions, he really did seem to play politics when asked why it took so long to re-open the park, saying simply that “government takes a long time” to get things done, and acknowledging that his sometimes abrasive approach is what’s needed to push projects through.

Hart introduced a new commercial with the theme “Fun Rides Again.” He said the advertising of the park always targets moms, who make the decisions on vacation time.

“We never lose our edge. We’re are edgy, but always safe and clean.”