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Wednesday, 17 February 2010 17:10

Creditors to vote on whether Ghost Town reorganizes or liquidates

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Dozens of local businesses owed money by Ghost Town are mulling over ballots this week that will ultimately decide the amusement park’s fate.

Ghost Town, which landed in bankruptcy a year ago, owes a total of $13.5 million. It hopes to regain its footing and become profitable again, eventually paying off what it owes over the next seven years.

Ultimately, everyone owed money will get to vote on whether to accept the reorganization plan or force Ghost Town into a liquidation — namely selling off the mountaintop property to the highest bidder and using the proceeds to pay off the debt.

Some 200 businesses, many of them local contractors and small businesses in the region, are collectively owed more than $2.4 million by Ghost Town. They are at the bottom of the list to be repaid.

Wallace Messer of Dickson Auto Parts in Waynesville is skeptical he will ever see the $11,000 he is owed for parts and supplies.

“I just don’t see them turning a profit enough to pay off what they owe,” Messer said. “If you want my honest opinion, they will never pay off what they owe. They can’t come out from under it.”

Messer said he will vote for a liquidation and hope that a sale of the property brings enough to pay everyone back.

Mike Plemmons, the owner of Plemmons Plumbing and Heating, wants to give Ghost Town a chance to stay open and try to turn a profit, however. There is $11 million in debt owed ahead of small businesses like Plemmons, and if the property is sold off, it might not fetch enough to pay off those at the bottom of the list, he said. He thinks Ghost Town staying open is the best chance he has to get paid back.

“I’d rather go down fighting and have some chance as have no chance at all. Slim is better than none,” said Plemmons.

Plemmons is owed $8,000 for supplies, which he ordered especially for Ghost Town from distributors then had to cover out of his own pocket when Ghost Town didn’t pay.

Bruce Johnson, the owner of Champion Supply, doesn’t hold out much hope Ghost Town will ever pay off its $16,000 bill for cleaning and janitorial supplies under either scenario.

“I don’t think we are going to get money either way,” Johnson said.

So he is going to mark his ballot based on what he thinks is in the community’s best interest.

“I think it is better for the economy if they keep operating,” Johnson said. “The people they pull in help everyone.”

Johnson said he should have put a hold on Ghost Town’s supply account sooner than he did.

“They kept saying they would get us a check,” Johnson said. “We took our eye off the ball.”

Johnson did finally put Ghost Town on a cash account, and it has continued buying supplies from him over the past year, this time, paying up front.

Messer said he regularly sold parts to the previous Ghost Town owners. When new owners bought the park in 2007, they continued making purchases under same account, which had a good track record.

“I should have started a new account,” Messer said.

Plemmons said local businesses operate on good faith and is disappointed someone violated that trust.

“All your family businesses are run by people getting up every morning trying to make an honest living,” Plemmons said.

But in Ghost Town’s case, they kept promising to pay. Plemmons thought they were just being slow and allowed them to keep ordering more supplies. Eventually they quit calling him back and he was in the dark until the bankruptcy papers came through.

Those owed money have to mail their ballots by next week. The plan must be approved by the majority of creditors, and by those holding two-thirds of the total debt.

The rules prevent one big lender like BB&T, which is owed $9.5 million by Ghost Town, from swaying the vote. It also prevents dozens of smaller companies from tipping the scale by virtue of their numbers, even though the amounts they are owed is much smaller.

As for the 215 companies collectively owed $2.4 million, Ghost Town’s reorganization plan pledges to pay them back over seven years out of profits. The plan calls for dedicating 6 percent of net revenue received each year to pay back the small business owners.

However, the park hasn’t turned a profit in two years. Ghost Town CEO Steve Shiver blames the recession for lackluster ticket sales the past two years. The 1960s-era amusement park also had far more issues lurking beneath the surface than its new owners realized when buying the park in 2007, requiring costly repairs and upgrades that weren’t in the original business plan. The recession made it impossible to secure financing, but Shiver says he has now found a lender that will help put them back on stable footing.

Shiver said the park was planning to open for the season in late May, then the landslide happened.

“We are extremely concerned that we can’t open this season — for all of us and the Maggie Valley tourist industry,” Shiver said. “To be fully prepared and geared to open and then have this happen ... but the owners are committed to seeing this through.”

The reorganization plan initially called for paying back only 25 percent of what the businesses are owed over a seven-year period using a portion of net profits, but was amended to call for 100 percent payoff.

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