Agreement to Purchase Cypress Gardens (FL)

Winter Haven, FL, 9/25/03The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit land conservation organization, announced today that it has entered into a contract with First Gardens, L.C. to purchase Cypress Gardens, with the goal of long-term protection of the historic attraction.

The 142-acre site includes the 107 acres originally under contract, that feature the botanical gardens, the water ski arena, Snively Mansion, the butterfly conservatory, and historic structures such as the radio museum, as well as a 35-acre parcel along Cypress Gardens Boulevard. Purchase price for the 142 acres is $22 million, based on an appraisal requested by TPL.

In addition, TPL has negotiated an option to purchase a 7-acre site on Swann Pointe, purchase price to be determined by an appraisal.

“We are very pleased that an agreement has been reached between the landowners and the Trust for Public Land,” said Governor Jeb Bush. “Cypress Gardens is a state treasure, and we look forward to seeing the gardens open again.”

Now that TPL has worked out a deal with the current landowner, the organization will begin looking for a permanent owner and manager for the property. Plans are for TPL to sell a conservation easement to the State of Florida that will buy development rights, and TPL staff are working with the state to fine-tune the language of the easement. Then TPL will structure a bidding process for private buyers interested in acquiring the land minus the development rights. That owner/operator will be responsible for managing Cypress Gardens. TPL may also look to public ownership to preserve the historic core of the gardens.

“Cypress Gardens is an unusual case because of its history as an attraction, and the great interest the community has in preserving that use,” said Greg Chelius, Florida director of the Trust for Public Land. “It may be that the best outcome for the gardens will be a public/private partnership.”

The future of Cypress Gardens has been unclear since the attraction closed its doors in April. A number of possible future scenarios have been discussed, and several potential buyers have expressed an interest in owning the property and managing it as an attraction. Governor Jeb Bush and the Cabinet placed the property on the state’s land-buying list in late August, expressing an interest in purchasing a conservation easement that will protect the land from development.

“A treasured Florida attraction took another important step toward preservation today thanks to the innovative efforts of the Trust for Public Land,” said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David B. Struhs. “Cypress Gardens is one of Florida’s cultural icons. By continuing to work together, this historical attraction will long endure, becoming a favorite to a new generation.”

TPL first became involved in the preservation of Cypress Gardens in late August, when First Gardens, L.C., owner of the real property, agreed to give TPL an opportunity to protect the site, and signed a option contract that covered the core 107 acres of the site.

The contract signed today gives TPL four months to work out the details of who will own and manage the park long-term. TPL will begin immediately to provide security and hire a company to provide maintenance for the gardens. Future plans include a volunteer cleanup and fundraising event.

About TPL: The Trust for Public Land is a national nonprofit organization working exclusively to protect land for human enjoyment and well-being. TPL helps conserve land for recreation and spiritual nourishment and to improve the health and quality of life of American communities. Operating in Florida since 1975, TPL has helped save more than 275 sites as community parks, waterfronts, historic sites, greenways and trails. The Wall Street Journal’s Smart Money magazine recently named TPL the nation’s most efficient large conservation charity for the second year in a row, based on the percentage of funds dedicated to programs. For more information, please visit our web site a