Questions remain about feasibility of Kentucky Horse Park's business plan

lblackford@herald-leader.comAugust 23, 2012 

FRANKFORT — The Kentucky Horse Park's new business plan to become financially independent from the state met with general approval Thursday from legislators, although questions remain about its feasibility.

The plan outlines three major ways the park could become solvent by 2020, but Director John Nicholson said each of those components is far from a done deal.

First, park officials hope a private developer will open a hotel at the park by 2015, but a previous attempt is still held up in litigation. That lawsuit must end before a new project can start.

Second, the plan depends on expanding the park's campgrounds, but that would require $6.8 million in funding from the state's capital projects fund.

Third, the park hopes to get more than $1 million from the community to reflect the number of visitors the park has attracted. One possible source could be local hotel taxes.

"There is no specific proposal at the time except to propose that the discussion begin," Nicholson said.

Despite the 2010 World Equestrian Games, which brought $85 million in construction projects to the park, officials had to ask the General Assembly for an extra $3.5 million to balance the budget for the 2012 fiscal year.

In his budget proposal, Gov. Steve Beshear, who with his wife, Jane, is an ardent Horse Park supporter, asked for extra funding, as well as exempting the park from 8 percent cuts to state agencies. Legislators objected and asked for a business plan going forward.

Nicholson said the park's problems started with the recession in 2008, when high gas prices added to a decrease in visitors and events. But he said the park's cash position this year had already improved with 87 events being held at the park, the most ever.

After the meeting, Sen. Bob Leeper, I-Paducah, said he questioned the projections on the three major parts of the plan.

"They're basing the business plan on three items that are questionable," he said.

Linda Blackford: (859) 231-1359. Twitter: @lbblackford

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