TPL Works With Potential Gardens Buyer (FL)

Tallahassee, FL, 12/16/03 – In a presentation today to Governor Jeb Bush and the other members of the Florida Cabinet, the Trust for Public Land’s Florida director, Greg Chelius, confirmed that TPL is working with Kent Buescher, the owner of Wild Adventures Theme Park, to finalize a purchase agreement that will result in Buescher being the long-term owner/manager of Cypress Gardens.

“We have taken some important steps in the past week and we’re getting there,” Chelius said, “but there are still several key pieces which must still must fall into place.”

Chelius outlined several key financial components of the project, including:

  • ?The State of Florida will be asked to pay $11 million to purchase and hold a conservation easement over the entire property – 150 acres. The purchase will have to be approved by the Governor and Cabinet, sitting as the Board of Trustees of the Internal Improvement Trust Fund.
  • TPL has begun discussions with representatives from Polk County and the City of Winter Haven about purchasing a 30-acre site for $2.5 million. The site contains the historical botanical garden. TPL has offered the city and county a lease-purchase arrangement that would allow the local governments to pay TPL back over time.
  • Wild Adventures has agreed to pay $7 million for the underlying fee title (the land minus the development rights covered by the conservation easement) for 120 acres of the site. The Trust for Public Land has agreed to give Buescher a loan to give him time to secure long-term financing.
  • The Trust for Public Land is continuing to work with gardens owner First Gardens LLC to make the deal work.
  • This is one of the more complicated financial transactions we have done in my 12 years in Florida working on projects for TPL,” said Chelius. “But we’re excited about doing this project because the people of Florida want the Gardens saved and we do, too. TPL has incurred major costs of our own in working on this project, including security and maintenance for the Gardens while they have been in our care, attorneys fees, and all the costs associated with such a complex land acquisitions.

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.