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Cypress Gardens to close (Florida's First Theme Part Osama Victim) ^ | April 11, 2003 | SANDI MARTIN

Posted on 04/23/2003 5:41:23 AM PDT by MalcolmS

WINTER HAVEN -- Cypress Gardens is closing its doors for good on Sunday because of declining attendance and a faltering tourism industry.

Florida's first theme park, which put Polk County on the map when it was founded 67 years ago, will officially shut down at 7 p.m., a decision the park's owners had virtually no control over, officials said.

According to a statement released Thursday afternoon, the park's attendance never recovered from the Sept. 11 attacks, which severely impacted the state's tourism industry.

March attendance was down 42,000 visitors from the same time last year, the statement says, and the threat of terrorism and war in Iraq have "impacted the park's ability to sustain itself."

"It is mandated by our lack of funds to sustain the normal operations," the statement says. "These diminished funds have impacted the company and placed it in this faltering and distressed situation. This distressed situation has been created as previously mentioned by unforeseen factors beyond the control of Cypress Gardens management and efforts."

Almost the entire staff will be laid off, with just a skeleton crew securing the property and wrapping up park affairs.

Employees were told about the closing Thursday afternoon.

Stacy Huey, assistant marketing manager for the park, said around 2:30 p.m. that she "just found out five minutes ago."

"This is a total shock to everyone outside of management," a noticeably upset Huey said.

Many of the employees are "really upset," said Shelly Tandbery, who owns and operates the park's dinner boat attraction, Southern Breeze.

"There's been rumors, but not to this extent," Tandbery said.

Tandbery said she and her husband hope to continue operating their dinner boat business, which they've been running under a contract with Cypress Gardens for more than four years, and fulfill the contracts they already have with groups.

"We are going to somehow try to continue with the operations there," she said.

Ticket and passholders have also been left in the lurch with the closing.

Winter Haven resident Tom Campana said he just spent $159 on two annual passes a month ago, but was told to write to an address about getting a possible refund.

The entire situation stinks, he said.

"I just feel like I shouldn't write to some address," he said. "They wouldn't even give me a contact person."

The park's phone recording had not been updated Thursday afternoon to reflect the news, stating, "Thank you for calling beautiful Cypress Gardens." The park's Web site,, was off-line.

And county officials, many of whom are in Tallahassee attending Polk County Day at the capitol, were also just hearing the news.

County Manager Jim Keene was reached in Tallahassee and said he'd just heard the news around 3 p.m. but didn't know much about the closing.

"I'm sure there'll be an effect on (tourism)," Keene said. "I'm not sure what their numbers are as far as attendance, but they've been struggling for the past few years. I'm sure there'll be an impact, along with everything else that's happening with tourism."

County Commissioner Charles Richardson, who represents the district Cypress Gardens is located in, had not heard about the park's closing when reached shortly after 4 p.m. in Tallahassee and responded by saying, "Good gracious."

"It put a shock into me," he said. "I hope it's not a permanent condition."

Richardson, a Polk County native, said Cypress Gardens has "been a valuable vehicle for so many people for so long," that "it's just a part of what we are in Polk County, in the Winter Haven area."

The city of Winter Haven issued a statement late Thursday afternoon stating that city officials are "saddened by the difficult decision" Reynolds and Cypress Gardens management "had to make in ceasing normal park operations, but understand you can only sustain losses for a certain period of time before certain business decisions must be made.

"We are proud of Cypress Gardens' rich and long history in our community and wish the management and employees the best," the statement concluded.

Cypress Gardens was founded by Dick Pope in 1936, but was sold to Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1985, who sold it to Busch Entertainment Corp. in 1989.

Reynolds and six others bought the park from Busch in 1995, but the owners reportedly had losses of $6 million over the past eight years.

The park had its niche in local tourist attractions by offering tropical plants and flowers, world-famous water ski shows and Southern belles in antebellum dresses. The park also catered to oversees couples getting married, and during its heyday was used as a backdrop for movies, attracting celebrities such as Elvis Presley, Esther Williams Johnny Carson and many others.

(Excerpt) Read more at ...

TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events; US: Florida
KEYWORDS: cypress
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Since the publication of this article, it has emerged that the State of Florida may buy some or all of the gardens. More articles can be found at:

Cypress Gardens Search Results

We own a house on a nice golf-course not far from Cypress Gardens (and about 20 minutes from Disney) that we rent out to vacationers on a weekly basis, and we've definitely noticed the drop-off in business.

Not only that, but we have been reverse-boycotted by the French. A French family that had contracted to stay for 3 weeks this summer called to cancel during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

How's this for an FR Fundraiser? If any FReepers are going to vacation in Florida and support the US Tourism industry (instead of going to France, Germany, or say, San Francisco), FReepmail me for the house website. If you like it, negotiate your best price, and I'll contribue $50 to FR for every week booked.

1 posted on 04/23/2003 5:41:24 AM PDT by MalcolmS
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To: Admin Moderator
If the FR fundraiser idea violates the advertising guidelines, please delete the comment. Thanks
2 posted on 04/23/2003 5:44:52 AM PDT by MalcolmS
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To: MalcolmS
In reality, attendance at Cypress Gardens had been going down for the last 10 yrs. It doesn't have much to attract children.
3 posted on 04/23/2003 5:48:40 AM PDT by stuartcr
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To: MalcolmS
Earlier thread (different article on topic):

4 posted on 04/23/2003 5:56:23 AM PDT by mwyounce
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To: MalcolmS
What's stupid is that the Jeb wants us FL taxpayers to foot the bill for a failing business.
5 posted on 04/23/2003 5:58:09 AM PDT by Thane_Banquo
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To: stuartcr
The new management team was working that, within the limits of their capital. Last year, they put in a water park suitable for kids up to about 8, which was being expanded with bigger slides, etc, this year just before they closed.

However, I have to admit that going there made me feel very young (I'm 39). They would attract vast crowds of seniors for their concerts (Pat Boone, Oak Ridge Boys, Glenn Miller Band type of acts). As the concerts let out, there would be a veritable scooter/walker traffic jam.

Nevertheless, it may be a case of too little, too late.
6 posted on 04/23/2003 6:04:46 AM PDT by MalcolmS
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To: MalcolmS
We're in our 50's, and we felt young there! The only time we went, was to bring some seniors there to visit and reminisce.
7 posted on 04/23/2003 6:08:23 AM PDT by stuartcr
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To: Thane_Banquo
Yes, not too impressed with that either. I hope they find another buyer rather than go the tax-supported route. As far as state parks go, it would be a lot of work to maintain even just the gardens on an ongoing basis compared to the more natural condition of most state parks.

Possible Buyer: (Same author and source as original article)

WINTER HAVEN -- The president of a south Georgia theme park reportedly wants to buy Cypress Gardens.

According to a news report Tuesday, Kent Buescher, president and CEO of Valdosta-based Wild Adventures, has left unanswered messages for Bill Reynolds, one of five Cypress Gardens owners who made the decision to close the Winter Haven attraction a little over a week ago.

Attempts to contact Reynolds and Buescher on Tuesday afternoon were unsuccessful.

In the news report, Buescher stated, "I feel like that property could fit. It would have to be upgraded to meet the needs of today's families ... We could restore a lot of its former glory."

Buescher has invested $65 million in Wild Adventures since it was opened seven years ago. The former petting zoo was recently named one of the top 50 amusement parks in the country by Amusement Business Magazine.

Wild Adventures is just off Interstate 75 north of the Florida-Georgia line, and features 55 rides, a petting zoo and more than 500 wild animals.

Although rumors have spread that several developers have expressed interest in purchasing Cypress Gardens, which billed itself as Florida's first theme park, Buescher is the first known private businessman looking to buy.

His interest comes as state officials negotiate with Cypress Gardens owners to buy some or all of the park through the $3 billion Florida Forever program.

Officials with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection have begun negotiations with Cypress Gardens owners at the direction of Gov. Jeb Bush, and the attraction's owners have agreed to maintain the grounds for at least three weeks while negotiations are held.

At the same time, a task force made up of local residents, activists and private business owners has been appointed to determine how much of the park the public would like saved.

The Cypress Gardens Task Force is being headed up by Rick Dantzler, a former state senator and an in-law of the Popes, the park's founding family.

The task force will tour Cypress Gardens from 8 a.m. to 9 a.m. Thursday, then return to the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce at 9:30 a.m. to gather public input.

After finding its niche by offering its world famous water ski shows and botanical gardens, Cypress Gardens was unable to compete with other theme parks in the area such as Walt Disney World and Universal Studios.

The attraction's owners said the park never recovered from the Sept. 11 attacks and the resulting drop in attendance. After reaching a high in the mid-1980s of 1.4 million visitors, Cypress Gardens' attendance had dwindled to a few hundred thousand a year when it closed April 13.

"I think it was trying to compete in an arena it was ill-suited for," said Chamber Executive Director Bob Gernert, who is helping lead the charge to save the original 36 acres of the park.

Gernert said he thought anyone trying to open a thrill ride park near Disney and Universal would run into the same problems the owners of Cypress Gardens did.

In contrast to Cypress Gardens' attendance in recent years, Wild Adventures has seen its attendance rise steadily, reaching 1.25 million visitors last year.

"There's no doubt the man has run a very successful thrill ride park in Valdosta, Ga.," Gernert said. "But he doesn't have another competitor within 150 miles of him. And that contributes to his success."

When experts in tourism say that thrill rides can't compete with Disney and Universal, Gernert said, that "is a position that I find very logical."

Gernert added that although he loves thrill rides, "Do I want to see one on Cypress Gardens Boulevard?"

8 posted on 04/23/2003 6:11:43 AM PDT by MalcolmS
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To: MalcolmS
Perhaps this will cause a domino effect and force a few of the others to lower their ridiculous entry fees.
9 posted on 04/23/2003 6:20:46 AM PDT by Blood of Tyrants (Even if the government took all your earnings, you wouldn’t be, in its eyes, a slave.)
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To: MalcolmS
Isn't it just possible that Cypress Gardens had a good run, but just can't keep up with the market?

With young kids, I've already got too many choices between Disney, Universal, Sea World and Busch Gardens. With only a week to spend (as well as limited buck) Cypress Gardens wouldn't be on my radar screen, like it might have been 30 years ago.

I don't deny the premise that 9-11 and the war on terror have had a negative effect on tourism. That's well documented.

But I'm not sure it was the death sentence for Cypress Gardens.

10 posted on 04/23/2003 6:26:53 AM PDT by Corin Stormhands (HHD, FRM, RFA)
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To: MalcolmS
For those interested in taking a photo tour of Cypress Gardens, here are some links to photos I took in 2000 and 2001:

Botanical Section

Butterfly Aviary


Photos from 2001

11 posted on 04/23/2003 6:27:37 AM PDT by MrTed
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To: Blood of Tyrants
Perhaps this will cause a domino effect and force a few of the others to lower their ridiculous entry fees.

Correct me... and 'splain... if I'm wrong, but wouldn't the law of supply and demand indicate otherwise?

12 posted on 04/23/2003 6:31:18 AM PDT by ericthecurdog
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To: MalcolmS
Part of the problem is that the "entertainment" of watching water-skiers and southern belles at 34.95 a pop just doesn't fly nowadays for the most part.

My grandparents owned a business in Winter Haven. I remember as a child going to the Gardens in the 70's and some of the same entertainment has been booked over and over and over for years. It is as if they expected the "seasoned citizen" population of the 1970's to continue to be around into the present day.

The day the announcement was made one WH city official (can't remember the name) made a remark to the paper about the war in Iraq being the last straw. As if people were dying to see that upcoming Roy Clark concert but were somehow prevented from travelling because of our victory.

13 posted on 04/23/2003 6:32:29 AM PDT by Sam's Army
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To: MrTed
You're a pretty damn good photographer. What outdoor film or megapixel do you use?
14 posted on 04/23/2003 6:32:38 AM PDT by ericthecurdog
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To: stuartcr
Cypress Gardens is an old fashioned park. It is the type of place you want to go for long walks in banks of flowers. The rides are great for really little ones - you know, merry go rounds and such. But they certainly can't compare to the megahuge theme parks in the area.

16 posted on 04/23/2003 6:33:46 AM PDT by I still care (America is great because it is good. When it ceases to be good, it will cease to be great.)
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To: MalcolmS
I think that terrorism was just the last nail in the coffin....(and an easy out).....agree with others that the Gardens are low on the radar screens of FL travelers. Heck, you can spend 2 weeks in Orlando and still not do everything there.....
17 posted on 04/23/2003 6:36:50 AM PDT by ContemptofCourt
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To: I still care
Right, and the mega-huge ones are the ones that attract the age group that generates mega-huge revenues. Please don't get me wrong, I enjoy CG, it's very pleasant and reminds one of the old days, it's a shame it can't compete.
19 posted on 04/23/2003 6:47:23 AM PDT by stuartcr
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To: ericthecurdog
Why, yes, it does. But doesn't this show a lessening demand?

Of course they can raise their prices even higher in an attempt to squeeze even more money from fewer people instead of lowering their prices and expanding the base. After all, isn't that the way the government does it?

P.S. Read my tagline.
20 posted on 04/23/2003 6:49:11 AM PDT by Blood of Tyrants (Even if the government took all your earnings, you wouldn’t be, in its eyes, a slave.)
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