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Wild Adventures to be sold

Albany Herald On-line

Original Article »

September 07, 2007

The owner of Southwest Georgia’s only theme park announced Thursday plans to sell the park by the end of the month in a last-ditch effort to recoop millions in debt while assuring park-goers that there should be no interruption of services.

Kent Buescher, President and CEO of Wild Adventures Theme Park’s parent company, Adventures Parks Group, said Thursday that both Wild Adventures and Cypress Gardens Adventure Park in Winter Haven, Fla., will be placed up for sale on Sept. 25.

Announcement of the sale is the latest chapter in an ongoing struggle to keep both parks running after Hurricanes Charlie, Frances and Jeanne pummeled Cypress Gardens, causing an estimated $25 million in damages to the park in 2004.

Claims were filed and the company’s insurance company, Oklahoma-based Landmark American, stopped honoring claims after paying out more than $7 million in 2005, leading Buescher to sue the company for the remaining $17 million in unpaid claims.

It was that unsettled claim that prompted Buescher to seek federal bankruptcy protection on Sept. 11, 2006.

Both parks, according to Buescher, are still lucrative business ventures with each bringing in more that 1.1 million visitors in 2006. But it is the debt that Buescher says he can’t escape.

The rumors of Wild Adventures’ possible sale spread quickly through Lowndes County Thursday.

Myrna Ballard, president of the Valdosta-Lowndes County Chamber of Commerce, said Thursday her organization is confident that Wild Adventures is staying put.

“I would anticipate that we will continue to enjoy that economic impact, regardless of whose name is on the sign,” Ballard said. “It’s going to be, in my estimation, a little blip on the screen when you look long-term or long-range for Wild Adventures.”

Buescher is equally as confident that the move will benefit the park, saying that the decision to sell wasn’t made quickly.

“I am pleased to report the sales process will secure a bright future for Wild Adventures and Cypress Gardens, as well as our many guests and the communities we proudly serve,” Buescher wrote in a news release.

Sara Sumner, spokeswoman for Wild Adventures, said arrangements and stipulations have been put into place that would require the buyer to honor customers’ year-round passes, known as passports, as well as honor other customer programs like reserved-seat and advance-ticket purchases.

Court officials said Thursday the bankruptcy was ongoing but declined to release details of the proceedings.

Buescher said in publicized reports that after he filed bankruptcy, the court approved a move to secure an additional $15 million from GE Capital, an investment bank which was to be used to keeps operations afloat at both parks until the insurance settlement could be reached.

Wild Adventures is a 250-acre theme park located just outside of Valdosta. Sumner said that in 2005 the park put on 40 concerts and had 1.4 million visitors.

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