Tourist Attractions and Arts & Entertainment, etc. and Attractions and Amusement parks and Tourism & Hospitality

Widow of Holiday World's president gains park control

January 11, 2013

A judge has awarded control of southern Indiana's Holiday World & Splashin' Safari to the widow of the theme park's late president, resolving a two-year legal fight.

Vanderburgh County circuit Judge Carl Heldt ruled that Lori Koch is majority owner of the holding company that operates the popular Santa Claus theme park. Her husband, Holiday World president Will Koch, died unexpectedly in June 2010 at age 48.

In the wake of the court's ruling, Lori Koch fired her brother-in-law, Dan Koch, who had served as Holiday World president following his brother's death.

Dan Koch is appealing the judge's ruling over control of the theme park, which Evansville Industrialist Louis J. Koch opened in 1946 under the name Santa Claus Land. Since that time, the Koch family has owned and operated the theme park, which has undergone numerous expansions.

The Evansville Courier & Press reported that Lori Koch named Matt Eckert, the park's former general manager, as its new president and CEO this week. Lori Koch will serve as the park's vice president.

A statement released Thursday by park spokeswoman Paula Werne said that following Will Koch's death "questions involving the interpretation of the company's Shareholders' Agreement arose" and the Koch family turned to the court system to resolve those issues.

"Regardless of the outcome, the park will continue to be owned and operated by members of the Koch family," Werne's statement said.

She confirmed that the $6.5 million in park improvements and additions announced last year will be completed as planned.

Court records show that Lori Koch sued Dan Koch and Koch Development Co. in January 2011, claiming her husband's 49,611.6 shares of the company were worth more than $32 million.

But Dan Koch and Koch Development Co. valued the shares at $26.8 million. The Evansville Courier & Press reports that the value of the shares was to be determined by a formula based on the park's value and earnings.

Will and Dan Koch and their sister Natalie Koch each owned equal shares of Koch Development Co. An agreement they signed in 2002, stated that upon the death of any of the siblings, the company would purchase that person's shares.

Natalie Koch sold her shares to her brothers shortly before Will Koch's death.

Lori Koch and Will Koch's estate had argued that the per-share price should be $653.07, based on shareholder meetings in 2008 and 2009 and a share transaction between Will and Dan Koch in 2009.

Dan Koch and the holding company had argued the price should be $541.93 per share.

In his ruling, Heldt agreed with Lori Koch and the estate, saying Dan Koch and the holding company improperly used the stock value from Dec. 31, 2009, rather than the purchase date. His ruling permanently excuses Lori Koch and the estate from any obligation to transfer the stock back to the holding company or Dan Koch.

Dan Koch and the company immediately appealed the ruling. His attorney, Kevin Patmore of Santa Claus, said Friday that he had no comment.

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