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Church steps right up, buys Joyland site

The Baptist Temple has agreed to buy the Pinellas Park entertainment complex that began as an amusement park.

Published June 6, 2003

PINELLAS PARK - Joyland, the landmark entertainment complex that has hosted politicians, country-western stars and professional wrestlers, is poised for a new incarnation as a church.

The Pinellas Park Baptist Temple has agreed to buy Joyland. The sale could be complete this summer.

In turn, the Baptist Temple plans to sell its sanctuary and other buildings at 4981 78th Ave. N to the city of Pinellas Park for $3-million. The city will sell bonds to pay for the property.

That sale hinges on the Joyland deal.

"They called us and said, "Hey, we're going to buy Joyland and make that our new location,"' said Mike Gustafson, Pinellas Park's interim city manager. "I called all five council members and said, "Hey, guess what.' All five were interested."

Pinellas Park plans to use the church and school for future office space, Gustafson said. The Baptist Temple would continue to lease the property for $12,500 a month while renovating Joyland, he said.

The church could stay on the land until Dec. 31, 2004.

Details of the Joyland sale are sketchy. The Rev. Everett Farris was out of town and could not be reached for comment. Joyland owner Walter Preston confirmed the church has a contract to buy the entertainment complex, but declined to talk about it until after June 15, when all the details should be worked out.

The closing of Joyland, 11225 U.S. 19 N, would mark the passing of an era when political and entertainment notables partied the nights away in Pinellas Park.

Joyland opened in 1959 as an amusement park and five years later became Joyland Country and Western Music Center. County Republicans met there for years.

In the early days, 2,000 teenagers packed the venue to see Duane Eddy and his band, the Rebels.

In 1960, the March of Dimes held a five-day dance-athon at the entertainment center. Dancers gained admission one of those nights by wearing pajamas and a local disc jockey swallowed live goldfish.

It was called the "biggest country music center in the South" when Jimmy Strickland and Billy Grammer played there. More recently, Billy Ray Cyrus strutted his stuff at Joyland.

As tastes changed, so did Joyland. Line dances were held and a skating rink for roller hockey opened. Three years ago, a dinner theater opened.

In the past year, boxing and wrestling matches have been held on weekends. Wrestlers Gangrel and Luna Vachon appeared there Sunday.

The owners also have tangled with government officials over code issues. When Pinellas Park annexed the property in 1991, the county was preparing a lawsuit to force Preston to comply with building and fire codes.

In 2000, city officials closed Joyland after finding so many "life-threatening" fire and building code violations that the structure had become "unfit for human habitation."

Construction of the dinner theater apparently caused some of the problems because work had gone far beyond the scope of the permits.

Two weeks later, city officials allowed Preston to open the dinner theater. Two days after that, heavy winds toppled the complex's 80-foot sign. By the end of the year, most problems had been solved.

[Last modified June 6, 2003, 02:03:32]

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