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Saturday, April 19, 2014

What was left of Wild West World sold off

BY MOLLY MCMILLIN
The Wichita Eagle

The last pieces of the failed Wild West World amusement park went up for sale at a public auction Saturday — the buildings, including the Johnny Western Theatre, the 100-foot neon sign along I- 135, all the fencing and even the trees.

AEG Group, the Florida investment group that bought the Park City park out of bankruptcy, held the sale.

It was standing room only at the auction, held at the Sleep Inn & Suites. The hotel is next to the land where the park was open for two months in 2007.

Bernie Ryals, who lives in Wichita and owns two horses, said he came try to buy a building to use as a horse shed.

"We're just looking for a good deal," Ryals said.

"And there appears to be some good deals here," said Tim Smith, a Haysville resident who also owns horses. But, "you have to have somebody to tear it down and put it back up," he said of the buildings for sale.

Businessman Wink Hartman bought two sections of what had been the amusement park's Main Street — the southwest and northeast parts — along with the Texas Jacks Pizza building, for his home on 600 acres in Rose Hill.

"I'll take it home and have my own Cowtown," Hartman said with a laugh.

Thurman Davenport of Thurman's Pools bought a small building for his property at Grand Lake. He paid $650.

Because of the business he's in, moving it isn't a big deal.

"It won't cost me nothing," he said.

Watching the sale was difficult for Rick Regan, who had worked for more than two years as creative director for park owner Thomas Etheredge.

Regan said he created the theater's buffalo heads, did all the murals, designed the signs and picked the park's colors.

Now, Regan said, "it's like a ghost town.... It's really kind of a sad thing. So many people worked so hard to make this happen."

One day, he went to work and Etheredge drove up to lock the gates.

"It was a shock to us," Regan said. "None of the us had a clue."

Regan came to the auction to try to buy the buffalo heads he'd made.

The prices that things were going for were "unbelievable," he said.

Coldstone Creamery spent $250,000 to put in a store at the park.

"They just sold it for $2,500," Regan said.

And the Johnny Western Theater cost about $300,000 to build, he said. It sold for $40,000.

"That theater is a state-of-the-art theater," Regan said. "Somebody got a really good deal."

AEG Group is preparing to tear out the concrete and blacktop and level the site for an unspecified project, auctioneer Eric Malone of Malone & Associates Auctioneers said earlier this week.

The Wyandotte Nation of Oklahoma owns land adjacent to the park and wants to put a casino there.

Etheredge is serving five years in prison for securities fraud after a Sedgwick County District Court jury found him guilty of misleading private investors.

According to documents from the park's bankruptcy proceeding, the park became insolvent in late 2006 as Etheredge struggled with construction cost overruns and excess spending on park equipment. At about the same time, Etheredge began soliciting private investors.

The park opened in May 2007. It closed two months later. The total debt on the park was $24 million.

Etheredge blamed the rainy weather and construction cost overruns for the park's failure. However, theme park experts said it was poorly themed and developed with cheap, poorly repackaged rides.

Contributing: Bill Wilson of the Eagle Reach Molly McMillin at 316-269-6708 or mmcmillin@wichitaeagle.com.

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