STONE MOUNTAIN, Georgia (AP) – The sole bidder to manage the state-owned, confederate-themed Stone Mountain Park in Georgia is a new company formed by an official from the departing company, the park’s board of directors said Monday.

The board of directors of the Stone Mountain Memorial Association on Monday voted for Thrive Attractions Management LLC to be finalists to operate the park near Atlanta, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

This paves the way for negotiations with Thrive under the direction of Michael Dombrowski – Stone Mountain Park General Manager for seven years as Vice President of Herschend Family Entertainment.

Management companies have little, if any, direct control over the Confederate images in Stone Mountain Park, and state law prohibits any alteration of the giant petroglyphs by Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson, and Robert E. Lee.

Such companies also play no part in the Board’s current initiatives to loosen ties with the Confederation, such as:

Dombrowski said he “absolutely” supports such efforts, which include the creation of a new museum exhibition on the history of the park and carving, as well as the long association with the Ku Klux Klan.

“There’s nothing we can do about a rock,” he said. “But we can do something for the living people and the community in front of this rock. The way we love our employees, how we welcome our community, how we invite our community. “

Bona Allen is a leader of the Stone Mountain Action Coalition, which is pushing for major changes to the Confederate tributes. He said Monday he hoped the new management company would encourage them too.

“The Stone Mountain Action Coalition wants Stone Mountain Park to be successful,” said Allen. “And the only way we think it can be successful is to be inclusive, that is, to get rid of the Confederation and everything it stands for.”

Dombrowski told the newspaper that Herschend was about to leave the park, he was heartbroken that Stone Mountain may not be part of his life. That led him to set up Thrive to bid on the new contract.

Herschend’s lease ends on July 31st. The company has announced it will leave, citing lower revenue and “protests and divisions” fueled by the park’s Confederate images.

Herschend has been operating attractions such as the laser show and the Skylift as well as special events, shops and congress rooms since the 1990s.

The agency launched a formal call for proposals from would-be operators in July for the park, which sits beneath the world’s largest Confederate monument – a giant mountain sculpture of Confederate leaders Jefferson Davis, Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee.

Four companies have expressed an interest, but only Thrive has made an offer, said Bill Stephens, CEO of the memorial.

Dombrowski’s “deep experience” and “unmatched depth of knowledge” made Thrive the right partner, officials said.

In press releases, Dombrowski, who developed popular attractions like Snow Mountain and Stone Mountain Christmas, has been credited with turning a lost money park into a profitable park in the six years leading up to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dombrowski told the newspaper that any current Herschend employee can stay with Stone Mountain if they want.

Thrive’s proposal calls for a 10-year management contract with an option for two extensions of five years each, the newspaper reported.

Thrive’s base fee would be 2% of gross hotel revenue and 3% for all other areas. The memorial association would withhold all proceeds for the first $ 8 million it accrues each year; Thrive would receive a 20% incentive fee for anything beyond that.

The memorial association would invest 40% of its cash flow in income-generating investments in the park.

The handover could take place before Herschend’s lease expires, said Dombrowksi.

Marriott operates the park’s main hotel and conference center, but Thrive’s proposal is to partner with Crescent Hotels and Resorts, a national management company.