Stone Mountain Park board weighing potential new business partners

Leaders still assembling panel for ‘truth-telling’ exhibit as well
April 20, 2021 Stone Mountain - Memorial Hall (foreground) and Confederate Memorial Carving (background) at Stone Mountain Park on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

Credit: HYOSUB SHIN / AJC

April 20, 2021 Stone Mountain - Memorial Hall (foreground) and Confederate Memorial Carving (background) at Stone Mountain Park on Tuesday, April 20, 2021. (Hyosub Shin / Hyosub.Shin@ajc.com)

Leaders at Stone Mountain Park are inching toward the selection of a new private business partner to manage revenue-generating attractions at the popular — but divisive — tourist destination.

The board of directors of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association, the state authority tasked with maintaining the 3,200-acre park, held a brief meeting Monday morning at which they took no official action but discussed potential new partners during an hour-long executive session, CEO Bill Stevens said.

Georgia’s open meetings law allows such discussions to take place behind closed doors.

Silver Dollar City/Stone Mountain Park — a subsidiary of Peachtree Corners-based Herschend Family Entertainment — has managed attractions like the skylift, the laser show, shops and convention space at the park since they were first privatized in the 1990s.

But the company notified the memorial association last year that it would be pulling out in the summer of 2022, citing “protests and division” surrounding the park’s Confederate imagery among the reasons.

In July, the memorial association issued a formal call for companies interested in taking on the management role to submit proposals. The deadline for submissions was Sept. 8.

Stephens said that Oct. 1 remains a “reasonable estimation” of the memorial association’s timeline for announcing a finalist, but he has otherwise declined to offer many details.

It’s not clear how many companies submitted bids.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution’s recent request for copies of the bids was denied. Officials cited a section of Georgia open records law that allows officials to keep such items confidential “until such time as the final award of the contract is made, the project is terminated or abandoned, or the agency in possession of the records takes a public vote” on the matter.

Asked Monday if he was happy with the number and quality of bids submitted, Stephens didn’t answer directly.

“This is hard,” he said. “This is a very complex place to operate, and there are a lot of significant questions that we have to answer. So I’ll just acknowledge it is very hard.”

While groups like the Sons of Confederate Veterans are pushing to prevent changes to the park’s Confederate imagery, others like the NAACP and the Stone Mountain Action Coalition want to see a wide-ranging transformation — including addressing the massive carving of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee that adorns the mountain’s northern face.

The memorial association is currently positioned somewhere in the middle, considering several more moderate initiatives to try and soften the park’s image (and lessen the related financial ramifications).

Those initiatives include the creation of an on-site museum exhibit that officials have said would seek to “tell the truth” about the carving and its roots in white supremacy, the Jim Crow era and massive resistance to desegregation.

The memorial association is in the process of assembling a committee to lead the exhibit’s creation.

Previously given deadlines for the announcement of that committee — which officials have said will include historians and local community leaders — have come and gone. But Stephens said news could be coming in the next few weeks.

He said “several” people have committed to be part of the committee and he’s still trying to convince “a couple” more to join.

Soon, Stephens said, the memorial association will issue a request for proposals for companies interested in physically designing and creating the exhibit. He hopes the RFP will prove to those on the fence that the memorial association is serious about moving forward, and encourage them to be a part of guiding what’s included in the exhibit.

“I think a lot of exhibit companies will be interested in this one because it will be unique, it will be one of a kind,” Stephens said. “And there’s nowhere else in America you can tell the particular story that we have to tell.”