Eco-related concerns over Cypress Gardens being turned into the world’s largest ‘Legoland’

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Date: 25 January 2010 The Daily Loaf - Katie M.

When I recently heard about the sale of Cypress Gardens to Merlin Entertainments, who plan to transform it into a Legoland theme park, I had some eco-related concerns and hesitations.

Here’s a little background on the company first: Merlin Entertainments is a fast-growing British entertainment company with a hand in 60 attractions and theme parks in 13 countries. According to the company’s website, their properties and projects include “four Legolands (one in California), five other full-sized theme parks, six hotels, the London Eye Wheel, nine Madame Tussauds attractions, 27 Sea Life aquariums, Warwick Castle in England and four year-round haunted house attractions called the Dungeon.” Did I mention they’re second only to The Walt Disney Company among worldwide attractions companies?

My first concern was for the beautiful botanical gardens at Florida’s first theme park, created by Dick and Julie Pope in 1936. Would the gardens be dozed in order to fit some brand new metal monstrosity of a roller coaster?

Next, I could just imagine the devastation to the rest of the Winter Haven site. Would bulldozers tear up the grounds to make room for this shiny new moneymaker of a destination in Central Florida? Not to mention the the resources and energy that would go into making brand new rides and buildings to fill it.

Fortunately, research calmed my fears (somewhat). Nick Varney, CEO of Merlin Entertainments, claimed, “…their botanical gardens are safe with us.” The company plans on keeping and reopening the beloved botanical gardens. (And possibly keeping the water-skiing show as well!)

Not only will Legoland be utilizing one of the existing wooden rollercoasters on the property, some of the original attractions found within Cypress Gardens will also remain. The rest of the new rides and attractions will most likely be created from reclaimed ones from other parks. Merlin Entertainments is known for buying off-the-shelf rides and re-theming them. This recycling of rides is a big plus in my book.

Another benefit of this theme park will be the amount of jobs and revenue it will bring into the area. This Legoland is set to be the largest one yet and will need a thousand-plus employees to run it. “It’s 1,000 jobs when we really need them,” said Gov. Charlie Crist. (He took the words right out of my mouth.)

But other concers about the new park remain: its huge carbon footprint: the millions of cars per year traveling to Legoland that will further pollute the air; the amount of trash that will be created (recycling program implemented, hopefully?); the devastation to the surrounding land to build more hotels and attractions around the theme park.

Legoland Florida is set to open in Fall 2011. I guess we’ll see if Merlin keeps their word concerning the botanical gardens and rides. Hopefully, this ends up being more of a blessing than a burden to Winter Haven.