Cypress Gardens Protection One Step Closer (FL)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. 1/22/04 – The Trust for Public Land (TPL), a national nonprofit conservation organization, announced today that it has exercised its option to purchase Cypress Gardens from First Gardens LC, the current owner of the historic park.

“We are very pleased to be part of the extraordinary partnership that has worked so hard over the past six months to preserve Cypress Gardens,” said Greg Chelius, director of TPL’s Florida Office. “This has been one of the most complicated, challenging and important efforts we have ever been involved in, and we couldn’t be more pleased with the result.”

Will Rogers, president of TPL, said, “Cypress Gardens is beloved by hundreds of thousands of people who have visited it for generations. We are proud to have helped save it. This is an excellent example of achieving our mission to protect land for people.”

The exercised contract signed with First Gardens LC is contingent on a decision by Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet to approve purchase of an $11 million conservation easement by the state of Florida. That vote is scheduled to be held at the Cabinet meeting next Tuesday.

Chelius explained that TPL exercised its purchase option because three other, separate steps were taken in the past day, including:

–The Polk County Commission approved spending $2.5 million to purchase the historic 30-acre core of the park. Chelius said, “The community’s support for preserving the gardens has been overwhelming.” He praised the efforts of former state senator Rick Dantzler and Bob Gernet, director of the Chamber of Commerce.

–TPL completed negotiations with Wild Adventures’ owner Kent Buescher early today and Buescher signed a contract in which he agreed to pay $7 million for the remaining 120 acres of the 150-acre site. The final sticking point was an antique fire engine. “Kent Buescher really wanted that fire engine,” said Chelius. Bill Reynolds, one of the owners of the gardens, agreed that it could be part of the deal.

–The TPL national board of directors met in San Francisco and approved the deal.

TPL, a national nonprofit land conservation organization, signed a contract August 25 with First Gardens, L.C. to purchase Cypress Gardens, with the goal of long-term protection of the historic attraction. The 150-acre site under contract includes the botanical gardens, the water ski arena, Snively Mansion, the butterfly conservatory, and historic structures such as the radio museum.

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.