Originally created 03/04/03

Stone Mountain Park faces declining attendance, job cuts



STONE MOUNTAIN, Ga. -- Declining attendance at Stone Mountain Park, the state's most popular tourist attraction, has led to staff layoffs, and officials say more cutbacks may be coming.

The positions of seven full-time employees were cut last week, and the hours of up to 50 of the park's 400 employees may be reduced, park officials said.

The slump comes despite a new attraction introduced last year that officials hoped would boost attendance at the privately operated state park.

Crossroads, a $30 million replica of an 1870s town, was introduced last year with great fanfare as the park's first new attraction in 25 years.

During winter months, the company reduced the number of full operating days at Crossroads because of low attendance.

Christine Parker, spokeswoman for Hershcend Family Entertainment Corp., the Branson, Mo.-based company that runs the park's revenue-producing operations, said Stone Mountain "has not met financial expectations" over the past two years.

The park is perhaps best known for its mass of exposed granite that rises 825 feet above the surrounding area and is carved with Confederate figures from the Civil War.

Leslie Breland, the park's marketing director, said Stone Mountain is suffering from the same economic downturn that has hit the hospitality, entertainment and tourism industry.

Overall business for the hospitality industry in Atlanta, including convention attendees, business and leisure visitors, was down 10-12 percent from last year, according to the Atlanta Convention and Visitors Bureau.

Park officials had projected a 30 percent increase in attendance during their current fiscal year, which ends in May. They now anticipate just a 14 percent increase.

The company pays $11 million annually on a 50-year contract with the state, but declined to release its budget figures.

Park officials insist the operation remains healthy.

"We are confident that this is a near-term situation and are committed to the long-term relationship we have with the state," Parker said.