New management partner approved for Stone Mountain Park

Thrive Attractions will take over operations of the Skyride, laser show, hotels

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Come August, Stone Mountain Park’s most popular attractions will be under new management.

The board of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association — the state authority tasked with overseeing the park — voted unanimously Monday to approve a 10-year contract with Thrive Attractions, which will take over facilities and programs like the Skyride, the laser show, festival operations and hotel and convention space.

Thrive will be the park’s first new management partner in more than two decades.

“We’re pleased that we’ve entered into a new management contract and look forward to working with the new company,” said memorial association CEO Bill Stephens. “And hopefully for people visiting the park it will be a seamless transition.”

Stone Mountain Park remains a state-owned entity but most revenue-generating attractions were privatized in the late 1990s. Peachtree Corners-based Herschend Family Entertainment has served as the park’s private business partner since that time but, two years ago, informed the memorial association it planned to pull out this July.

It cited “protests and division” fueled by the park’s Confederate imagery and falling revenues as factors in the decision.

Officials said Monday that the park had a net loss of nearly $1.6 million so far this year.

The memorial association issued a call for potential Herschend replacements last summer. Thrive Attractions LLC — a new firm created by longtime Herschend executive Michael Dombrowski — was the only bidder.

The contract approved Monday includes extension options that could ultimately lead to a 30-year partnership between Thrive and the park.

Credit: Jenni Girtman

Credit: Jenni Girtman

The contract allows for Thrive to keep 2% of the annual gross revenues from hotels within the park and 3% of gross revenues from other areas of the park. Crescent Hotels and Resorts will help Thrive run the existing hotels and conference facilities, taking over for long-time Herschend partner Marriott.

Officials have said no current Herschend employees will be laid off and can work for Thrive if they wish.

The formal transition will take place Aug. 1.

“I am thrilled to be able to continue the great work of managing Stone Mountain Park, and to keep in place an experienced group of senior managers and engaged employees,” Dombrowski, the Thrive founder, said in a press release. “We’ll build on our success by caring for and loving our employees and guests, and ensuring Stone Mountain Park is a welcoming and inclusive environment for all visitors from Atlanta, the nation and the world.”

Management companies like Herschend and Thrive have no real control over the controversial Confederate tributes that fill Stone Mountain Park, from the massive mountainside carving to street names. But Dombrowski previously told the AJC he supports the memorial association’s efforts to soften its ties to the confederacy.

Those incremental efforts — building a truth-telling exhibit at the park’s on-site museum and relocating Confederate flags from the base of the popular walk-up trail — were approved by the memorial association board a year ago, but movement has been slow.

Stephens, the memorial association CEO, said Monday that the memorial association had received formal bids from six companies interested in creating the museum exhibit, which officials hope would better contextualize the history of the park and its carving of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

The carving was conceived over several decades and has ties to the Jim Crow era and the Ku Klux Klan, as well as white Georgia leaders’ resistance to desegregation and the Civil Rights movement.

Stephens said the memorial association will now begin evaluating the proposals before selecting semi-finalists and hearing formal presentations in the coming months.

“We just had to get [the new management agreement] behind us,” Stephens said.