Merlin Entertainments Group is expected to confirm today (Thursday) that it plans to build a new Legoland theme park on the site of the former Cypress Gardens park in Florida.
The company is set to hold a press conference to announce its plans for the site, which it purchased last week for a reported $22.3 million. An e-mail from a Polk County tourism official has seemingly confirmed that the company intends to announce a new Legoland park, bringing the franchise to the world's number one theme park market.
The e-mail was sent from Mark Jackson, the county's director of tourism and sports marketing, to county commissioners who are invited to Thursday's announcement. The e-mail contains suggested talking points for the commissioners, including helpful facts such as the number of existing Legoland parks worldwide (four) and background on UK theme park operator Merlin. Although not official confirmation from the company itself, it is very likely that as a senior county official, Jackson is privy to the company's plans.
It is likely that Merlin will also announce a new Lego-themed water park, based on the existing Splash Island water park on the Cypress Gardens site. This would support Merlin's plans to add Lego water parks to a number of its locations.
Cypress Gardens closed in September last year, immediately sparking rumors of a Merlin takeover of the site. The park's botanical gardens and water park had only re-opened in March following a five-month closure, although its rides and animal exhibits did not return. It is not known whether Merlin intends to retain any of the existing attractions that have yet to be sold.
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 previous 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.