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Cypress Gardens Reopens in Florida

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Cypress Gardens Reopens in Florida

Mon Dec 6, 6:02 AM ET U.S. National - AP

By SARA KENNEDY, Associated Press Writer

WINTER HAVEN, Fla. - One of Florida's first theme parks, Cypress Gardens was known for its lush native plants, its water-ski show and young women dressed as Southern belles.

AP Photo

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• Cypress Gardens - official site

The concept was a hit in the 1950s but officially died in 2003. One of the original Florida tourist draws couldn't compete with the 21st century whiz-bang rides at Walt Disney World, Universal Studios and Busch Gardens.

But Georgia theme park operator Kent Buescher thought the park had potential if it could meld nostalgia with modern attractions. Earlier this year, he bought Cypress Gardens for $7 million under a deal that involved state and local government and a nonprofit conservation group.

After a $45 million investment in four roller coasters, 34 other rides and new restaurants, Cypress Gardens is set to reopen Thursday, hoping to find a profitable niche in central Florida's crowded tourism market. The hoop-skirted belles are back, along with the gardens and water skiers. There is even a new butterfly garden featuring 20 species.

"We wanted the park to have a vintage feel. That's why we've left a lot of these elements in place," spokeswoman Alyson Gernert said.

If Cypress Gardens stays true to its history, a theme park expert thinks it may thrive. The park, which opened in 1936, served as the backdrop for Esther Williams (news - web sites) movies during its heyday.

"To bring it back to what it once was would be unique," said Dennis Speigel, president of International Theme Park Services Inc., a Cincinnati-based consulting firm.

More than 30,000 visitors showed up during a three-day preview last month — about two weeks worth of visitors in the year before it closed. Many were locals, happy that the 150-acre landmark had not been torn down.

Robert Campbell said he wanted to see the ski show, but he couldn't get his sons off the roller coasters. Their favorite: The Triple Hurricane, a small version of New York's famed Coney Island wooden coaster.

He said the botanical gardens were as lush as they had been decades ago when he visited as a child with his parents.

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there was a story on NPR yesterday about the new park. I hope he does well and am glad he preserved some parts of the old park. I remember going there as a kid and seeing the water ski shows.

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I drove around the park, while I was visiting my family in Winter Haven over Thanksgiving weekend. Although I couldn't see inside the gates, Kent Buescher, has that place sparkling. Most of the rides and roller coasters were constructed over the old grass parking lot, while a new asphalt lot and entry plaza has replaced the old greenhouses that used to sit just south of the park. A retail center is now being developed on the grass overflow parking lots that used to front Cypress Gardens Blvd. He's also building a water park, on the site, that will open in this summer.

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Looks like things are going better than planned at the new Cypress Gardens.

Attraction gets teeth

Today, Cypress Gardens Adventure Park opens Nature's Way, the park's redesigned animal exhibit.

By Amy L. Edwards | Sentinel Staff Writer

Posted May 26, 2005

WINTER HAVEN -- Almost seven months after its grand reopening, Cypress Gardens Adventure Park continues to grow.

Today, dozens of animals will officially be unveiled in Nature's Way, the park's redesigned and refurbished animal exhibit.

Stars of Nature's Way include a jaguar named Sheba, a pair of Nile crocodiles, and a 75-year-old alligator that was in the Tarzan movies.

Nature's Way is just a slice of Kent Buescher's $50 million-plus improvement plan for the park he purchased, renovated and reopened in December.

"It's turned out unbelievably beautiful," Buescher said...

http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/cu...-home-headlines

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