State Approves Cypress Gardens Easement

TALLAHASSEE, 1/28/04 – Governor Jeb Bush and the Florida Cabinet today secured the future of Cypress Gardens as a Florida attraction, nine months after the state’s oldest theme park closed its doors because of dwindling attendance. The Cabinet voted unanimously to place a conservation easement over the entire 150-acre property.

“Cypress Gardens is a piece of Florida’s modern history,” said Department of Environmental Protection Secretary David B. Struhs. “Because of the leadership of Governor Bush, the dedication of the Trust for Public Land and the tireless efforts of the Gardens’ supporters, this cultural icon will be preserved for future generations to enjoy.”

Last year’s closure of Cypress Gardens ended a legacy that included water-ski shows, film-making and Southern Belles. Hope for its survival was renewed when Governor Bush directed the Department of Environmental Protection to explore options for the park’s preservation through the Florida Forever program.

In August 2003, The Trust for Public Land (TPL) joined the State in the endeavor to save the 67- year-old theme park, negotiating a contract with the property owners, and successfully executing agreements with the State, county and a private buyer.

“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.”

The cooperative plan to preserve Cypress Gardens includes:

?TPL will acquire the 150-acre site from the current landowner for $20.5 million.

?The State of Florida will invest $11 million, 74 percent of fee value, to protect the entire 150-acre property through a conservation easement.

?Polk County will invest $2.5 million to purchase 30 acres, including the famed botanical gardens.

?Kent Buescher, owner of the popular Wild Adventures theme park in Valdosta, Georgia, will invest $7 million for the underlying fee title on 120 acres — the land less the development rights covered by Florida’s conservation easement. TPL will provide a bridge loan to Buescher for up to 120 days.

Cypress Gardens could reopen as early as Memorial Day. Tentative plans for the restored theme park merge traditional attractions with roller coasters and a water park to draw a broad crowd. Buescher has indicated he will spend an additional $36 million within 18 months, and an estimated $3 to $5 million annually, to upgrade the park.

The 10-year, $3 billion Florida Forever program established by Governor Bush conserves environmentally sensitive land, restores water resources and preserves cultural and historical resources.