(AUTHOR NOTE: the following story is a reprint of my exclusive breaking news post on WKRN’s “Nashville Is Talking” on May 5, 2008)
One of the backers of the proposed Bible Theme Park USA in Murfreesboro is a very successful businessman but was once more known for his photographs of cover girls and “Pets of the Month” for Penthouse Magazine.
Amnon Bar-Tur’s photographs graced the covers of at least one other adult magazine and spanning from the late 60s to the early 80s. A quick online search revealed this and also reference to a 2001 Chapter 11 filing of a photography and media company Bar-Tur co-founded that reportedly owed $34,000,0000 to J.P. Morgan Chase.
J.P. Morgan Chase had given the company a loan of about $35 million to finance a number of mergers, according to an affidavit of David J. Manning, C2 Media’s president and chief executive.
C2 Media acquired seven companies just before it began operations in May 1999. It purchased four other companies during the first quarter of 2000, the affidavit said.
Amnon Bar-Tur is in his element bringing big money to big deals. In October of last year, Amnon Bar-Tur was interviewed in a New York Times article about a high end investment club he’s a part of called Tiger 21 (The Investment Group for Exceptional Returns in the 21st Century). As Amnon and others suggest in the article, Tiger 21 is also a kind of therapy group from millionaires.
The very act of giving a narrative shape to one’s life story, he said, not only helps the rest of the group better understand that person and his issues and priorities; it also helps the presenter focus on the rationale for decisions he has made and decisions he is considering. That level of depth means the group is uniquely qualified to challenge someone when he is veering off track or dreaming of something that from the perspective of one or more members of the group could prove disastrous.
Amnon’s life journey more recently involves organizing capital to back creative theme parks ventures with the help of fellow Tiger 21 members.
Amnon Bar-Tur, managing partner of SafeHarbor Holdings, an investment holding company, recently joined a fellow Tiger member, and together they raised $330 million from investors to build a Hard Rock Theme Park in Myrtle Beach, S.C. “We’re wealthy enough where we can pool our assets and open our own doors into alternative investments,” says Sonnenfeldt. Indeed, the group’s total assets surpass $5 billion.
In 2006, Amnon Bar-Tur announced that partnership on behalf of Safeharbor Holdings, LLC with a fellow Tiger 21 member to bring Hard Rock Park to Myrtle Beach, SC. Two years later, Hard Rock Park’s grand opening is now a month away. But two weeks before that grand opening is a May 15 date with the Rutherford County Commission to learn whether another one of Safeharbor’s theme park projects will get the county’s stamp of approval. Hard Rock Park plans to publish their first quarter earnings on the same day.
According to the proposed park’s website, Bible Park USA will be a “park that brings the Bible to life through well-loved, familiar stories and ancient historical experiences.” The park is proposed for the Blackman community near 840. The park developer and project sponsor is Amnon Bar-Tur’s son, Safeharbor Holding co-founder and managing director Armon Bar-Tur. You might have seen him quoted in stories about the park’s progress throughout Rutherford County’s approval process.
One person you won’t see quoted often in this deal is Armon’s father. Amnon has a keen sense for business and made Hard Rock Park a reality, but in the late 60s, 70s and 80s he had a good eye for something entirely different. Amnon, it turns out, is somewhat famous to those who now collect his work published in the pages of Penthouse Magazine. Several editions throughout the early 1970s featuring Amnon’s cover girls and Pets of the Month go for as much as $30 online. Editions of Club, a more hard core adult magazine featuring Bar-Tur’s work, now go for as much as $300.
Before word of this latest revelation was known to many of the businesses now supporting the developer’s plans, local business owner Sharon Petty put the proposed uses of the Blackman Community property in stark religious terms (listen to the audio).
“I mean, we’re right smack in the middle of all the Bible belt. So people really look at Murfreesboro as kind of a Mecca. It’s a place to actually join in together. Blackman community is really going to benefit from this rather than hurting them. They could have had all kinds of ugly things. They could have even had adult entertainment on that highway, on that freeway. You can actually have adult entertainment. Which one would they rather have? Something with God’s book on it, or would they rather have the Devil’s den out there?”
It is not clear what the impact, if any, this news will have on supporters of Bible Theme Park USA. but it does raise one very important question. How much due diligence have county commissioners and supporters done when a simple Google search would have revealed this and more?
UPDATE 3:57pm – Jeff Diamond with The Ingram Group, a firm retained by Safeharbor Holdings, LLC as a consultant on public and government relations for Bible Theme Park USA, sent a bio for Amnon Bar-Tur (view full word doc). Ingram Group also shared the following statement from Amnon’s son Armon in response to this developing story.
“Surely what a young immigrant photographer did 35 years ago to make a living in his first job out of college as a fashion photographer has no relevance to the development of our world-class tourist attraction in Rutherford County in 2008.
“I am proud of what my father, Amnon Bar-Tur, has accomplished in his lifetime — from young Israeli soldier and veteran newspaper photographer to head of European operations for SafeHarbor Holding. He has been a wonderful father and mentor to me, and I am saddened that this has become a matter for tabloid-style journalism.”