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Wednesday, 08 April 2009 15:46

Ghost Town’s struggles challenge community

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As Ghost Town continues to struggle, many are finally coming to grips with the reality that the Old West theme park may never be the economic engine it once was.

Ghost Town has had ongoing financial problems since it re-opened two years ago. Its premier rides — the roller coaster and the incline railway that takes visitors to the park — have been idle since the park re-opened. These and other tribulations have compromised the visitor experience, a reality that investors will have to deal with as they try to increase admission numbers this year.

The park recently filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, which means it wants to re-organize its debt — $12.5 million, including more than $2.5 million in outstanding bills to everyone from suppliers to ride repair companies. The debtors include many local companies who were excited about Ghost Town’s potential to boost the local economy and who now are left hoping they can get the money owed to them as the company works through bankruptcy proceedings.

Ghost Town investors started the long road to re-opening with widespread support that reached all the way to Washington. Theme park owners secured a government backed low-interest loan with the help of then Congressman Charles Taylor. Economic development and tourism officials all heralded the opening as a shot in the arm for the region. Companies owed money have held past due bills in hopes all would turn around, banking on the long-term benefit of a viable — if dated — theme park.

Now, as the reality of bankruptcy settles in and a May 19 projected opening date looms amid the worst economic crisis since World War II, many are holding their breath. Maggie Valley in particular needs to continue re-positioning itself as a tourist destination separate from Ghost Town. That way its businesses can look toward the future with some optimism, and if Ghost Town does succeed it will be a boost to those businesses but not counted on as the savior.

That really is what it has come to: no one is counting on the park to provide a great boon during this year’s tourist season. Everyone wishes Ghost Town the best, but mounting debts and unfulfilled promises have strained relationships and eroded the all-out community support. Only time will tell what the future holds for this once important component of the region’s tourism industry.

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