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Cypress Gardens sold to trust

Selling to a nonprofit land conservation firm means the landmark will be spared from development.

By Associated Press
Published September 26, 2003

WINTER HAVEN - Cypress Gardens, the attraction known for its water ski shows and Southern belles, will be purchased by a nonprofit land conservation firm, easing concerns that the property will be developed, officials said Thursday.

The Trust for Public Land entered into a $22-million contract with the owners of the park, one of Florida's oldest tourist attractions, to purchase 142 of its 176 acres. That includes the botanical gardens, water ski arena, the Snively Mansion and the butterfly conservatory. The trust also has negotiated an option to buy a 7-acre site on Swann Pointe.

The park closed in April after being open for 67 years, citing declining attendance.

The land conservation group now plans to search for a permanent owner and manager for the property. It is not known when the park will reopen as a tourist attraction.

Kent Buescher, owner of Wild Adventures theme park in Valdosta, Ga., and David Siegel, owner of a timeshare empire in Orlando, have both expressed interest.

In a statement, Buescher said he was optimistic he would be able to negotiate a deal. "If accepted, our plan will restore Cypress Gardens to its former glory," he said.

Siegel didn't return a message left at his office.

Supporters of Cypress Gardens also are looking for help from the state.

State officials placed the property on the state's land-buying list in late August, expressing an interest in purchasing a conservation easement. Conservation easements protect property from development while allowing owners to continue to use it. The conservation easement would be funded through the Florida Forever program.

"We are genuinely excited over every square inch saved," said Burma David Posey, a leader of efforts to save the park. "Now we're waiting to see what Gov. (Jeb) Bush will do to save the rest."

In a statement, the governor called Cypress Gardens "a state treasure."

"We look forward to seeing the gardens open again," he said.

[Last modified September 26, 2003, 01:49:38]


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