CARROLLTON -- The slumping slopes of General Butler State Park are leading state officials in a new direction for the biggest state recreation facility near Northern Kentucky.
Gov. Paul Patton broke ground recently at the park for a $2.4 million conference center, and construction will begin next month. Completion is scheduled for fall 1999.
The new center will seat 500 people banquet-style and up to 1,000 theater-style. The largest number that can currently be accommodated at the park is about 80.
The new center is expected to boost the Carrollton economy by more than $5 million a year and draw groups from Cincinnati, Northern Kentucky, Lexington, Louisville, Frankfort and Indianapolis. Park Manager Harold Tomlinson said numerous inquiries have come in from groups with more than 100 people.
Carrollton Mayor William Welty had hoped to see the center open this year, but "we'll take it when we can get it," he said.
"I think it's equal to an industry" moving in, Mr. Welty said. Area occupancy rates have been hurt by the close of the Ski Butler slopes, said Jennifer Ray, executive director of Carrollton-Carroll County Tourism.
The park's slopes closed last winter after being open since 1981. Warm winters made skiing difficult at Ski Butler. Eddie O'Daniel of Louisville, founder and president of Springhill Vineyards, turned the ski lodge into a winery and boutique. It also rents the building for wedding receptions and other events.
The conference center project, sought since 1993, was pushed by a contribution of $80,000 from Carrollton-Carroll County Tourism, Mrs. Ray said.
It's expected that visitors to the conference center also will spend money at local stores and restaurants, Mr. Welty said.
"We're really in a perfect location for the people who would prefer a more rural setting, being midway between Cincinnati and Louisville," Mrs. Ray said.
Carroll County is rated 32nd of Kentucky's 120 counties in tourism, she said. "I really expect that (conference center) to move us up a notch or two."
The new challenge will be hotels, Mrs. Ray said. "We will definitely have to build some more hotel rooms to go along with that."