Eileen Street produced the video portion of this story.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — New leadership is headed to an iconic Kentucky amusement park. Herschend Enterprises, the nation's largest family-owned themed attractions and entertainment company, has become a majority partner and operator of Louisville's Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay amusement and water park.

What You Need To Know

  • Herschend Enterprises has become a majority partner and operator of Kentucky Kingdom and Hurrican Bay

  • Herschend operates other attractions such as the Dollywood and the Newport Aquarium

  • Negotiations with Herschend Enterprises began last year for the sale of ownership interest in Kentucky Kingdom, LLLP

  • Herschend is bringing Craig Ross, Dollywood's president for the past 10 years, to serve as the park's interim general manager

Georgia-based Herschend operates other attractions such as the Dollywood Parks and Resorts in Pigeon Forge, Tenn., and the Newport Aquarium in Northern Kentucky.

“Kentucky’s ability to attract nationally recognized companies to the Commonwealth is part of our commitment to build a stronger Kentucky by fostering partnerships that create opportunities for future economic growth and revenue,” said Gov. Andy Beshear, who announced the partnership with other state and local leaders Tuesday morning. “Herschend is a proven innovator and leader in the tourism industry, and we are delighted that they recognize the potential Kentucky has to offer and have committed to expanding their operations in the Commonwealth.”

Herschend's new role as majority partner of Kentucky Kingdom is a collaborative effort between Kentucky Kingdom, LLLP, the Kentucky State Fair Board, the Tourism, Arts, and Heritage Cabinet, and the Finance and Administration Cabinet.

“After opening Newport Aquarium in 2008, we’ve been actively seeking an opportunity to bring even more entertainment to the great state of Kentucky and that dream begins today,” said Herschend Chief Executive Officer Andrew Wexler. “We’re honored to be welcomed into the beautiful and historic city of Louisville, and thrilled to build upon the exceptional 25-year legacy of Kentucky Kingdom."

The park, which opened to the public in 1987, covers a 65-acre entertainment complex. Negotiations with Herschend Enterprises began last year for the sale of ownership interest in Kentucky Kingdom, LLLP.

“We are pleased to turn the park over to a new generation of leadership. Herschend is an outstanding operator, who will undoubtedly take Kentucky Kingdom and Hurricane Bay to the next level. We expect their involvement will add greatly to the Commonwealth’s thriving tourism industry,” said Kentucky Kingdom’s founder, President, and CEO Ed Hart.

Herschend Enterprises is bringing Craig Ross, Dollywood's president for the past 10 years, to serve as the park's interim general manager. Under Ross's leadership, Dollywood surpassed Disneyland and was named among TripAdvisor and USA Today’s best theme parks in the world.

“This is an exciting moment, and I am so honored to work alongside the community, our season pass holders, and our valued guests in building a bright future for this beloved park,” said Ross. “We strongly believe in using guest and community input to create amazing experiences and will be reaching out to the Louisville community for input on enhancements they’d like to see at the park, including attractions, shows, and events. This feedback will be critical in creating a long-term plan for success and growth.”

Herschend will implement a strategic plan to expand the park's operations, with plans including:

  • Building the appeal for multi-generational families;
  • Hosting family-friendly seasonal and themed events and festivals;
  • Enhancing product and guest experiences through rebranding and the addition of Herschend-owned programming, such as costume character appearances;
  • Expanding of the season to provide entertainment to more park guests; and
  • Building relationships with state and local tourism partners to increase awareness and entice travel to Kentucky Kingdom, Louisville, and the commonwealth.

According to a release, Herschend entertains over 14 million guests per year at 25 properties located in eight states.

“Herschend’s decision to expand its operations in the Commonwealth is a reflection of the state’s reputable tourism industry and the commitment by this administration to move Kentucky forward by investing in tourism and economic development,” said Tourism, Arts and Heritage Cabinet Secretary Mike Berry. “We look forward to being a partner with Herschend to promote their vision for a newly reimagined attraction that will create a multi-generational experience that visitors across the nation will travel to Kentucky to enjoy.”

Kentucky Kingdom shares a parking lot with the Kentucky Exposition Center at the intersection of Interstate 65 and Interstate 264, making it easily accessible to visitors from Indianapolis, Cincinnati, Lexington, Nashville, and St. Louis.

“The financial strength and stability of any long-term tenant is of the utmost importance in protecting the Commonwealth’s financial interests,” said Finance and Administration Cabinet Secretary Holly Johnson. “Herschend has an outstanding reputation in the theme and amusement park industry, an established financial performance, and a demonstrated ability to meet short-term and long-term obligations. Under Herschend’s leadership, the Newport Aquarium has been ranked by USA Today as one of the top 10 aquariums in the nation, and we welcome their expanded presence in Kentucky.”

The Kentucky Exposition Center is the sixth-largest facility of its kind in the United States and is home to the Kentucky State Fair, National Farm Machinery Show, a variety of concerts, and more.

“The Kentucky State Fair Board looks forward to working with Herschend to ensure the new vision for the park is successful in Kentucky,” said Kentucky State Fair Board Chair Steve Wilson. “The Board understands the long-term value of having a nationally recognized company like Herschend in Louisville and believes that a positive economic future for Kentucky is ahead.”

Louisville Mayor Greg Fischer welcomed the announcement.

"Since reopening in 2014, Kentucky Kingdom has had a significant impact on our city, from both a tourism and jobs perspective, and we’re very excited about the potential for growth with a new owner. Herschend has a national reputation for its award-winning theme parks. I have spoken with them, and can’t wait to partner with them and see what they are planning for Louisville," said Fischer. "I also want to thank Ed Hart and his team for the work they’ve done to reinvent the park over these past several years, including their commitment to our SummerWorks program, providing an important boost in summer experiences for young people."

Kentucky Kingdom is currently accepting applications to fill 1,200 job openings for the upcoming season. More information is available online.


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