The Internet rumor mill is buzzing this morning following suggestions that Merlin Entertainments Group, the owners of the Legoland chain, has purchased Cypress Gardens in Florida.
Screamscape got the scoop, pointing to a document on the Polk County website which states that lease and development rights for the property have been transfered from current owner Land South Adventures to Merlin Entertainments Group Florida. This has led to speculation that the theme park chain has set up a Florida subsidiary for the purpose of developing a new Legoland theme park on the Cypress Gardens site.
Cypress Gardens closed in September last year, immediately sparking rumors of a Merlin takeover of the site. The park's botanical gardens and Splash Island water park had only re-opened in March following a five-month closure, although its rides and animal exhibits did not return.
Cypress Gardens would appear to be a good fit on some levels for Merlin if the company is looking to expand the Legoland brand into the world's number one theme park market. In addition to the existing infrastructure to support a theme park, it also has a pre-existing water park which would support Merlin's plans to add Legoland water parks to a number of its locations.
However, the location of Cypress Gardens has weighed heavily against it in the fiercely competitive Florida market. Situated close to Winter Haven, south of Orlando, the park is around an hour's drive away from Walt Disney World. Past owners have struggled to persuade visitors to Orlando to make the journey, although Busch Gardens Tampa has built a successful business despite being located a similar distance from Orlando. Merlin may be hoping that the well-known Legoland brand will be enough to attract tourists and locals to the park.
Cypress Gardens was founded as a botanical garden in 1936 by Dick and Julie Pope and grew into a major attraction. The current owners paid $16.8 million to take over the park following a 2007 bankruptcy sale. The company's plans included opening a new museum dedicated to its history and expanding the water park. However, the planned expansion was never completed and the park has struggled in the face of heavy competition from Florida's other attractions.
Earlier this year, participants in an online survey were reportedly asked how they would feel about a Legoland park being located on the Cypress Gardens site.
Would you make the trip to a Legoland theme park on the Cypress Gardens site? Let us know through the comments section below.