Winter Haven's Cypress Gardens, closed since September, will reopen in 2011 as Legoland Florida under the direction of England-based theme park giant Merlin Entertainments Group
Merlin, second globally in size to Disney among attraction companies, owns four Legoland parks, including the 10-year-old Legoland California
. Legoland Florida will include 50 rides, shows and attractions, as well as a hotel resort.
The site's historic, 32-acre botanical garden also will be incorporated into the park.
Cypress Gardens, which opened in 1936, is considered Florida's oldest theme park and a precursor to Walt Disney World
, Universal Orlando
and other Central Florida attractions. The most recent owner, Land South Group
, sold the property to Merlin for a reported $22.3 million.
Merlin reportedly will receive $5 million in incentives from Polk County, including $150,000 annually for 10 years for job creation.
"When you have the second-largest company in the world, at least in that sector, involved in your community, investing in your community, it does a couple of things," says Mark Jackson, Polk County's Director of Tourism and Sports Marketing
. "One, it makes a statement about your market with the initial capital investment. Then, the ongoing capital investment will be significant for us."
Merlin is Europe's largest attraction company. Its properties in Britain include the London Eye Ferris wheel
and Madame Tussaud's Wax Museum
It owns Legoland parks in Denmark, England, Germany and Carlsbad, Calif., with two more scheduled to open in Malaysia and Dubai.
Merlin's parent company, the Blackstone Group
, purchased controlling interest in Busch Entertainment Corp. in October. That gave Blackstone control of Busch Gardens Tampa, Sea World Orlando and other Busch properties nationwide.
In addition, Blackstone owns 50 percent interest in Universal Orlando.
Writer: Carter Gaddis
Source: Mark Jackson, Polk County