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Bid to buy Ghost Town approved

More Good News for Western NC! We are happy to hear that Ghost Town Should Be Opened July 1!

Written by Beth Pleming Tuesday, 04 May 2010 22:05

MAGGIE VALLEY "” A key victory was won Tuesday in the relentless fight to keep Ghost Town in the Sky alive as a family amusement park, but the battle is far from over.

An offer by Al Harper, of American Heritage Family Parks, LLC, to buy the park out of bankruptcy for about $7.5 million was approved by a federal bankruptcy judge Tuesday morning. With no objections to the deal, Harper's offer was approved with little discussion and the hearing was over in less than 15 minutes.

Pursuant to the deal, Harper will pay a flat $7 million to Branch Banking and Trust, which holds the near $10 million mortgage. He will pay an additional $105,000 to Haywood County and Maggie Valley to satisfy back property taxes, and another $300,000 to be distributed among hundreds of creditors owed a cumulative near $2.5 million.

At the time of closing, a judge will distribute the $300,000 according to a pecking order set forth by federal bankruptcy code. Harper said he hopes to close on the property within the next two weeks.

Having a judge's approval only means the sale of the park can proceed. Meanwhile, the deal is not sealed until there's money in the bank, said Harper.

"Now, it's really about getting final contingencies cleared by lenders then we should be ready to roll," he said.

Harper is banking on verbal agreements from lenders who have agreed to loan him millions to buy the park out of bankruptcy and get it ready for a 2010 re-opening. As owner of the Great Smoky Mountain Railroad and other scenic railways in Texas, Silverton and Durango, Colorado, Harper has personally guaranteed a $15 million loan, putting up his railroads as collateral. Meanwhile, he's waiting for the loan to come through.

"In this market, with financing the way it is, you don't know that you've got it closed until it closes. There are no standard rules anymore," he said. "We're hoping we're done but until the money is in the bank, we can only be 99 percent sure. We're living in the strangest economy I've seen in my 35 years in business."

Assuming the loan comes through as promised, Harper said he plans to hit the ground running toward a 2010 season opening.

"There's no question we will open this season," he said. "It's just a mater of when."

Much of the park's opening, however, hinges on work being done to stabilize the site of a massive February mudslide that originated on park property and damaged portions of Rich Cove Road, leading to the park.

Maggie Town leaders have contracted two engineering firms to plot a course of action, but don't anticipate that work will begin before the beginning of June. That said, Maggie Town Manager Tim Barth said he realizes time is of critical essence and has conveyed that to all parties involved in the clean up, stabilization process.

"Believe me, we want the work done up there as quickly as possible, but we also want it done as safely as possible," said Barth. "I can't make it go any faster, and don't want them to go so fast that something is missed. That would be the worst thing."

Currently, there's no timeline for when the work will begin. Engineering plans are being drawn, and then the work will be open for bids. It could be June before contractors are hires, said Barth.

"I have told them more than once (that time is of the essence)," Barth said. "I want them to move as quickly as possible, and I think they are doing that."

Meanwhile, Harper is aiming for a July opening, said he will do all he can to ensure that slide work does not impede the process.

"We will take enough steps to make sure that (work) does not hinder the park from opening," he said. "We can not tolerate losing this whole season."

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