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Tuesday, 20 July 2010 19:21

Ongoing issues foil Ghost Town reopening plans

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Ghost Town in the Sky amusement park in Maggie Valley will not open this summer, contrary to previous assertions by park owners and managers.

The amusement park is still mired in bankruptcy and remains in a holding pattern until a major landslide blocking access to the park is cleaned up and stabilized.

A proposal by one of the park’s main owners to buy Ghost Town out of bankruptcy failed to go through as planned. Al Harper, owner of Great Smoky Mountains Railroad and a principal investor in Ghost Town, hoped to buy the park for $7 million. That price tag would fall $6 million short of covering the park’s debts, but it would have allowed the park to emerge from bankruptcy. Harper hoped to put the amusement park back in operation, but the deal was contingent on a loan from an offshore lender.

Maggie Valley business owners that rely on tourist traffic from the theme park had been hoping the deal would go through. But even if it had, the challenge of getting rides in working order to pass state inspections and hiring a seasonal staff to get the park open for the summer would have proved challenging, according to park officials.

Meanwhile, stabilization of a massive landslide that originated from the mountaintop amusement park is months away from completion. Until then, the risk of another even more massive slide is possible.

The work is estimated at $1.3 million, a tab being picked up by federal and state grants.

The town of Maggie is contributing $25,000 in matching funds and is coordinating the work. Ghost Town made a verbal promise to pitch in $25,000 as well. Maggie Town Manager Tim Barth said he won’t authorize work to start until the money from Ghost Town is in hand.

The town is still waiting on state environmental permits before the project can go out to bid. However, a debate has now emerged concerning competing plans.

Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver is not satisfied with initial engineering plans to fix the slide.

“We thought there was a better way,” Shiver said.

The plan to recontour the mountainside on a gentler grade would claim a small flat area Shiver says may be critical to the amusement park’s future plans. As the only level spot on an otherwise extremely steep slope, it’s one of the few places Ghost Town could add attractions in the future.

As a result, Ghost Town asked for a second stabilization plan to be formulated. A slightly steeper grade, bolstered by a retaining wall, would preserve the level area.

Barth said Ghost Town must pick up the tab for engineering work required for the alternative plan, which is still in development. A cost estimate for the competing plan is not known yet, Barth said.

“If that option is significantly more expensive, that’s where more money might be necessary from Ghost Town,” Barth said.

Once one of the two plans is chosen, more detailed plans must be prepared before the project can go to bid.

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