Merlin Entertainments is to transform the former Cypress Gardens park in Winter Haven, Florida, into Legoland Florida – the biggest Lego theme park to date.
When it opens in 2011, the 145-acre site will become the second Legoland in North America, and play an important part in Merlin’s continued US growth. Following a multi-million dollar investment, visitors will be able to enjoy the same Legoland concept tried and tested in California, Denmark, the UK and Germany, but with added “Florida flavour.”
The decision to open a Legoland Park in the state follows considerable research by Merlin for a number of years. This indicated a high recognition of the Legoland brand, with over 9 out of 10 families expressing an intention to visit. The Winter Haven site is less than an hour from Orlando and the Legoland brand should easily have the pulling power to attract families from this tourist hotspot.
“Legoland Florida will be one of the most exciting and important projects Merlin has ever developed,” declares the company’s CEO, Nick Varney. “It is a unique opportunity for us; Florida is the biggest family tourist centre in the world. We have been looking for the right site there for some time and in Winter Haven we plan to create one of the best and certainly most beautiful, theme parks in the world.”
“We are delighted at this news,” adds Florida Governor, Charlie Crist. “We are extremely happy that the future of Cypress Gardens is secure. Legoland is one of the most exciting names in family attractions and a welcome new addition to Florida.” Legoland California opened in 1999 and is currently the fastest growing theme park in the US. Merlin also operates a smaller indoor Legoland Discovery Centre near Chicago, with two more planned in Texas and New Jersey. The Florida park is expected to create more than 1,000 new jobs by opening in late 2011.
Founded in 1936 by Dick and Julie Pope, Cypress Gardens became famous for its botanical gardens and water-ski shows and had multiple owners, particular in recent years. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, then owner of Sea World, bought the park in 1985, and Anheuser-Busch later acquired it before selling to a private partnership in 1995. The park then shut down in 2003.
In 2004 it was acquired by Georgia theme park owner Kent Buescher, who was plagued by three hurricanes and a subsequent conflict with his insurer. Land South Holdings acquired the property for $16.8 million at a bankruptcy auction in 2007, but closed the ride park in late 2008, and the rest of the park a year later. Merlin’s acquisition also includes the Splash Island Waterpark and botanical gardens.