WINTER HAVEN, Fla. -- Wild Adventures of Valdosta, Ga., purchased
the Cypress Gardens theme park here for $7 million and plans to
reopen it by Memorial Day weekend, although the company concedes
the deadline might be too optimistic.
The company will invest an additional $35 million into the park
over the next 18 months, according to a spokeswoman.
"[Cypress Gardens] was primarily botanical gardens, water shows
and Southern belles," the spokeswoman said.
The new Cypress Gardens will incorporate some features of its
new sibling, the Wild Adventures theme park in Valdosta, she said,
by adding rides, "which were never a huge part of Cypress Gardens
before," and animals -- although the indigenous kind, not the type
of wild animals found at the Georgia theme park. Music concerts and
seasonal festivals also will be introduced.
Cypress Gardens, one of Florida's oldest parks, closed last
April after 67 years of operation.
A Depression-era federal works project, the park had been
sinking into a depression of its own since Walt Disney World opened
45 miles to the northeast in 1971, and it failed to recover from
the drop in tourism after 9/11, said Cypress Gardens' former
president and CEO, Bill Reynolds, who had purchased the park from
Anheuser-Busch in 1995.
The decision to close the park was "mandated by our lack of
funds to sustain normal operations," he said. The park had run up
losses of $10 million, he added.
After a series of maneuvers by the nonprofit Trust for Public
Land (TPL) to save the park from being demolished and the land
turned into a residential development, Kent Buescher, president and
CEO of Wild Adventures, agreed to purchase the property and operate
it as a theme park.
Wild Adventures purchased 120 acres of the property, and the
Polk County Commission agreed to buy the 30-acre botanical garden
at the core of the park for $2.5 million.
In addition, the state of Florida is purchasing an $11 million
easement on the 150-acre property.
To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].