Theme Park, Amusement Park and Attractions Industry News

Cypress Gardens closes (for the third time)

Cypress Gardens and Splash Island Water Park, Winter Haven, Florida, abruptly closed on September 23, leaving in doubt the future of an attraction that has lured visitors since 1936.

It is the third time since 2003 that Cypress Gardens has closed. Co-owners Rob Harper and Brian Philpot said they are “in the process of negotiating with several potential purchasers and lessees for all or part of the property.” Harper and Philpot have owned Cypress Gardens as Land South Holdings since 2007.

Founded in 1936 by Dick and Julie Pope, the park became famous for its hoop-skirted “Southern Belles,” botanical gardens and water-ski shows. 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. Cypress Gardens first shut down in April 2003 following years of declining attendance.

Georgia theme park owner Kent Buescher acquired the facility in 2004, but three hurricanes in 2004 damaged the park and delayed its scheduled reopening. Cypress Gardens Adventure Park finally debuted in 2005, with rollercoasters and other rides augmenting the gardens and water-ski shows. But Buescher had conflicts with his insurer over hurricane damage, and in 2006 he filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.

The following year, Land South Holdings bought Cypress Gardens for $16.8 million at a bankruptcy auction. Harper and Philpot closed the ride park in late 2008 and spent several months transforming what was left. They announced plans to expand the Splash Island Waterpark, and to lower ticket prices, but after just one season chose to throw in the towel. How much will they profit from this brief dalliance with park ownership?

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