Can Stone Mountain Park survive COVID-19 and Confederate controversy?

Company behind attractions at Stone Mountain Park says it's ready to pull out

DEKALB COUTY, Ga. — Insiders at Stone Mountain Park say that it may be hard to find a new company to take over running the site’s money-making attractions after high-profile events and protests over the summer surrounding the park’s Confederate imagery .

The company that currently runs the attractions, Silver Dollar City Stone Mountain Park LLC, filed a notice in July that states they will terminate operations in July of 2022. The company has operated the park and overseen revenue-generating attractions like the hotels and theme parks since 1998.

Park officials say a confluence of events over the summer has proved to be a challenge.

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“Our guests and team members have recently shared that Stone Mountain Park feels increasingly less family-friendly, welcoming, and enjoyable, as the park is frequently the site of protests and division,” officials said in a statement.

The company also said the pandemic has made it harder to operate and manage recreational areas to create positive experiences for families.

Channel 2′s Mark Winne filed an open records request to examine the financial future of the park. In the documents, Bill Stephens, CEO of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association (which runs the park) indicated the company came to the state authority in March and said the company couldn’t pay rent because of COVID-19. The authority agreed to let them defer rent until September, totaling $4.86 million dollars.

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The company has since paid up, but the documents request raise questions about the financial future of the park and whether its ties to the past -- and its Confederate imagery -- play a role.

Stephens said the authority board has been working on a plan for possible additions to Stone Mountain Park to balance the historical record when it comes to the park’s controversial Confederate imagery.

He indicated he’s left with concerns about how to operate the park and how to find another private-sector partner.

Advocates said finding a private company to run the park now that the current company has served notice its leaving would be a challenge.

Brian Morris is a banker, Emory MBA and volunteer with the Stone Mountain Action Coalition Advocacy Group. Morris said the park is going to have to make some big changes if they want to find someone who will operate the site.

“Several events this summer that are directly related to the park’s affiliation with the Confederate history is a financial drain on those who try to make, operate businesses there,” Morris said.

Winne also spoke to Martin O’Toole with the Georgia Sons of Confederate Veterans. O’Toole said COVID-19 is really to blame and he believes the Confederate imagery is being positioned to take the fall.

O’Toole said he sees an opportunity for the state if it takes over operations.

There's a new push for confederate imagery to be removed from Stone Mountain Park