Florida's oldest oceanarium bought by developer

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MARINELAND--Florida's oldest theme park, Marineland, was acquired by Atlanta-based Jacoby Development Inc., a shopping center developer.

Jacoby, led by chairman James Jacoby, who has a personal interest in marine life, plans to build a hotel on the park's site. Ground may not be broken for three to five years, according to Robin Friday, Marineland's general manager.

The 125-room Inn at Marineland is the only hotel there now; it offers rooms from $74 to $325 per night. Future improvements include a boardwalk that could be in place by next spring and a beach restoration for next fall.

Marineland is trying to overcome its financial problems, Friday said, noting that attendance has been declining for the past 20 years. It is running about 50% behind 1997's volume of 118,000. Some 200,000 visitors per year are needed to cover costs, Friday estimated. The downturn is due in part to the popularity of Orlando's theme parks, he said.

To beef up attendance, Friday launched programs such as one allowing visitors to snorkel with 250-pound groupers, a 12-foot-long sawfish and other creatures in a 350,000-gallon aquarium. (The cost is $125.) For the same cost, there are dolphin encounter classes. Fees include park admission.

Friday, a former director of animal training at Sea World, also hopes to launch an aquarium business educational program in November.

As for Marineland's regular business, Friday had some ideas. "We see a lot of prospects for improving business. This is such a beautiful place, and it's rich in old Florida history," he said.

For one thing, Friday is studying ecotourism tie-ins. In addition, the park would continue to stress education but would add more entertainment features, taking advantage of the attraction's rich history. It was the site of various novels and films, including the 1950s classic "Creature From the Black Lagoon."

Located between Daytona Beach and St. Augustine, Marineland opened in 1937 and featured the first dolphins in captivity. Marineland itself was incorporated as a town in 1940. When attendance at the park dipped in the 1990s, the 10-acre attraction and the surrounding land were separated.

The park was turned over to the nonprofit Marineland Foundation in 1996, and the remaining 140 acres were sold to a private developer, Marineland Ocean Resort Inc. Plans were to create a timeshare development, "but they never got off the ground and the resort filed Chapter 11 in October of last year," Friday said. A bankruptcy judge's ruling paved the way for the Trust for Public Land to purchase the 140-acre parcel for $7.75 million.

Marineland is open 9 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Admission is $16 for adults, $11 for those ages 3 to 12. A rate of $10 applies to groups of 25 or more; schools pay $5.
Marineland
Phone: (904) 460-1275, Ext. 100
The Inn at Marineland
Phone: (904) 471-1222

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