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Proposals submitted to reopen Otter Creek

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By John Friedlein

By JOHN FRIEDLEIN jfriedlein@thenewsenterprise.com

MEADE COUNTY — Louisville parks officials are considering five proposals to reopen Otter Creek Park.

While the cash-strapped city closed the facility Jan. 2 because it was costing taxpayers $500,000 a year to operate, at least some of the groups who want to run it plan to make money in a variety of ways — from golfing to concerts.

The closure sparked an outcry from park goers. Many Hardin County residents use the 2,600-acre park, which was a popular spot for mountain biking, hiking, disc golf and horseback riding.

According to a deed with the federal government, the land must be used for public recreation. The city will lease the property to one of the five groups, which had to submit their proposals by Monday.

Parks spokesman Jason Cissell said the city’s main goal is to offer a great recreational opportunity at no taxpayer expense. A negligible lease payment will be considered, but a larger one that could be invested in other parks would have an obvious appeal, he said.

The proposals will be reviewed for the next several weeks. Factors include how much experience these groups — four from Louisville and one from Florida — have at running similar operations.

If a clear front-runner emerges, “we could finalize our selection pretty quickly,” Cissell said. If not, the process could take a few months. The U.S. secretary of the interior also must review the proposal.

Cissell said he won’t disclose details of the proposals until the review process ends.

One of the proposals, made by Kentucky Resorts, includes a golf course, tennis courts, a new lodge, cottages, cabins and multi-use trails, said Mike Czerwonka, who heads the company.

Czerwonka said his running the park would depend on alcohol sales.

Meade County Judge-Executive Harry Craycroft said the park is in a dry precinct, and it would probably take a petition and a vote to allow a group like Kentucky Resorts to sell alcohol.

Also, Craycroft said he hopes the park will reopen. “It’s a great facility. It’s got tremendous potential.”

Czerwonka said his organization’s proposal would create about 350 permanent jobs.

If an admission charge is necessary to make the project work, he said he hopes it would be minimal.

One of his goals would be to keep the YMCA’s Camp Piomingo.

The YMCA of Greater Louisville is another of the five groups that submitted a proposal, the core of which would be scheduled group use, CEO Steve Tarver said.

It would involve the park’s conference center, camps, experiential learning areas and family cabins. Tarver said he wants to use the strengths of his organization in serving the park and meeting community needs.

The YMCA, which has run Camp Piomingo for the past 71 years, is having its biggest summer program in the past decade, Tarver said. His group installed a $45,000 electronic gate at the main entrance.

While individual use of the park isn’t part of the YMCA’s proposal, this could be possible sometime in the future if the organization partners with another group, for instance.

As for the other proposals, The Courier-Journal on Monday reported some details.

Otter Creek Park Services would add about 40 new campsites and a restaurant — possibly a marina, according to the paper.

Also, Spirit of the Suwanee Music Park in Florida would model Otter Creek after its existing operation, which features indoor and outdoor stages, camping and hiking.

And Blue Phoenix Properties proposed opening the conference center to private functions and eventually a restaurant. The Louisville company would charge admission.

John Friedlein can be reached at (270) 505-1746.