Friday, September 28, 2007

A place of peace

It opened in 1936 and was a hit for decades, tourists added it to their vacation destination list. In recent years though, it's water shows and gardens found it difficult to compete with the more sophisticated parks in the area.

After almost 70 years of operation, Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven FL closed it's doors in 2003 and then was sold to Kent Buescher. He purchased the Gardens for $7 million with help from the state of Georgia and Polk County in 2004. Adventure Parks Group LLC filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2006, stating that it was $135 million in debt, part of which included $25 million incurred when Cypress Gardens was hit by 3 hurricanes in 2004. Buescher stated that he had been unable to reach a settlement agreement with his insurance company.

In an attempt to lessen the losses, both Cypress Gardens and it's sister park, Wild Adventures Theme Park in Valdosta GA were sold at auction earlier this week. A $16.8 million bid by Mulberry based, Land South Holdings LLC, had already been approved by the U S Bankruptcy Court, Middle District of Georgia in Macon. They were designated the "stalking horse bidder" by the debtor and were the bar set for the minimum bid.

It had been rumored before the auction that William Beach, 68, of Miami Beach FL may have his friend Jon Broderick at the sale to make a bid for the park. Beach, the CEO of the Ohio-based K Wm Beach MFG Co. Inc. certainly has the finances to purchase the park but he stated that he was reluctant to invest in such an unsure property.

Beach and Broderick are both former skiers in the Cypress Gardens water show, when they both were young men. That show and the lush gardens within the property were what drew tourists for decades. Both Beach and Rick Dantzler, who is married to the granddaughter of Gardens founders Dick and Julie Pope, share the view that the Gardens can be saved by turning most of the 152 acres into a refuge.

Both men would like to see a venue that is built around the botanical gardens, specialized skiing events and the arts. There is already an $11 million conservation easement that prevents any developement of the oldest theme in Florida, other than as a park to promote the historical gardens. They would enjoy seeing it developed as a place of peace in the rapidly growing surrounding areas with additional funding from the state and county.

The sister park, Wild Adventures Theme Park was sold seperately to Herschend Family Entertainment of Missouri for $34.5 million. They already operate Atlanta's Stone Mountain Park in partnership with the state of Georgia.

It would seem that the older theme parks in the U S will continue to face the heavily financed and sophisticated rides people have come to expect and unless they can compete for tourist dollars, they may well fall by the wayside as several have in recent years.

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