Stone Mountain Park seeks new private business partner

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Credit: Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Longtime partner pulling out next year, citing ‘protests and division’

The state of Georgia is officially looking for a new partner to help run Stone Mountain Park.

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association — the state authority that controls Georgia’s most visited and most divisive attraction — issued a request for proposals this week asking businesses interested in managing the park’s revenue-generating attractions to come forward.

It could be a hard sell.

Silver Dollar City/Stone Mountain Park, a subsidiary of Norcross-based Herschend Family Entertainment, has run attractions like the skylift, the laser show, shops and convention space since they were privatized in the late 1990s. But the firm is pulling out next summer, citing “protests and division” among its reasons.

ExplorePHOTOS: Confederate imagery at Stone Mountain Park

Confederate imagery at the park — which includes the massive mountainside carving of Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee — has long been controversial but has found itself under deeper scrutiny during the ongoing national conversation about systemic racism.

Confederate supporters and far-right militia groups have used Stone Mountain as a rallying point in recent years, at times drawing counter protesters and producing tense clashes in the park. Activists have also renewed their calls diminish or eliminate tributes to the Lost Cause, which include streets named for Confederate leaders and homages to states that fought to preserve slavery.

The Stone Mountain Memorial Association has recently taken incremental steps in that direction, voting to relocate Confederate flags from the base of the mountain’s walk-up trail and to form a committee that will create a truth-telling exhibit at the park’s on-site museum.

ExploreWhat 'telling the truth' about Stone Mountain might look like

Memorial association CEO Bill Stephens has admitted those moves are largely driven by financial concerns. Revenue has been down dramatically in recent years, driven especially by corporations and other large organizations shying away from hosting events at the park.

Stephens has said that, during preliminary conversations with several potential replacements for Silver Dollar City, companies have stressed that they wouldn’t bid “unless we do something about the Confederacy issue.”

The request for proposals that was issued on Thursday asks potential suitors to address how “a re-imagining/re-positioning of the park” would fit into their strategy for maximizing revenues. A one-page addendum also suggests companies interested in the gig familiarize themselves with the Stone Mountain Action Coalition, the grassroots group leading the charge for changes to the park’s Confederate imagery.

Proposals are due by Sept. 8. A finalist could be selected by October.

“Revenues and attendance have been exceptionally strong this year to date as the recovery from COVID continues,” Stephens said Friday. “It is an extraordinary opportunity for a management company interested in a public-private partnership.”