Florida aims to save Cypress Gardens

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- Florida Governor Jeb Bush's cabinet approved plans to purchase a perpetual conservation easement for Cypress Gardens, the 67-year-old theme park that closed last April for financial reasons.

The purchase will be made through the $3 billion Florida Forever program initiated in 1999 to conserve environmentally sensitive land and preserve cultural and historical resources. The plan was recommended by the state's Acquisition and Restoration Council.

Two prospective purchasers are considering the 174-acre property, according to a spokeswoman from the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. One is the owner of the Wild Adventures theme park in Valdosta, Ga., who wants to make it an amusement park, with some new attractions that will appeal to young people.

The other interested party is a time-share mogul who is proposing operating Cypress Gardens as a theme park but with the addition of several museums, including a sports hall of fame and a collection of Royal Doulton dolls.

In either case the state will purchase an easement that will prohibit development of land designated for conservation.

The property is under an option until Sept. 24 held by the Trust for Public Land (TPL), a nonprofit organization whose mission is to preserve public ownership of historical and cultural resources.

According to a spokeswoman, the TPL stepped in when it discovered the owner of the property planned to sell it for commercial and residential development. The TPL's plan is to secure ownership of the land and then sell it to an appropriate buyer who will maintain the integrity of the environmental, historical and cultural resources.

To contact reporter David Cogswell, send e-mail to [email protected].

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