On January 7, Merlin Entertainments Group, the company behind Legoland in California and other parks in Europe has purchased the struggling Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, Florida. A spokeswoman for U.K.-based Merlin Entertainments Group said the company bought Cypress Gardens, its Splash Island water park and the botanical gardens. No further details have been released, but Merlin is planning a press conference on Thursday, January 21 in to reveal its plans for the property. Merlin bought Cypress Gardens from Mulberry-based Land South Adventures, according to Polk County public records. While Merlin wouldn't reveal its purchase price, it appeared from land records that Merlin paid $22.3 million for the park.
Rumors have been circulating for months that Merlin would like to open a Legoland in Florida, which would be its second U.S. location. The company currently operates four Legoland Theme Parks in California, Germany, Denmark and England.
Merlin appears to be limited in what it can do at Cypress Gardens. A conservation easement on the property requires that the roughly 30-acre historic gardens be left alone. The adjacent 120 acres is intended to be used as a theme park, according to documents from the state Department of Environmental Protection.
The acquisition expands the presence of private-equity colossus The Blackstone Group in Central Florida’s theme-park industry. In 2005 Blackstone acquired all of Merlin Entertainment, the British amusement park operator which in turn partially owns the four Legoland parks and Chessington's World of Adventures in the U.K. Last fall, Blackstone acquired Busch Entertainment Corporation (BEC) from Anheuser-Busch InBev giving them control of the SeaWorld/Discovery Cove/Aquatica parks in Orlando and Busch Gardens in Tampa Bay. In addition, Blackstone co-owns Universal Studios Orlando.
Cypress Gardens was home to four steel coasters and two wooden coasters including the Starliner which was rescued from Miracle Strip Amusement Park. The ride section of the park including all of the coasters closed on November 16, 2008. The park operated the remaining gardens and water park until September 23, 2009 when the entire park was shuttered. Some of the rides had been sold and moved so it is not certain at this time if all of the coasters are still on the property.