Never Never Lands
It was a great billboard. Big and colorful, with artwork depicting the
wonders to come, it stood watch over the vacant land near Biscayne Bay
for years. An amazing new theme park, Interama, would shortly be built on this very site -- the sign said so.|
The only thing wrong with the sign was that it wasn't true. Interama was not to be, another dream to die stillborn in the Florida sun. Disney had it right; he refered to his Imagineers as Dreamers and Doers. To dream was not enough, you had to follow through.
These are Florida's Never Never Lands -- the fantasy lands that would never, never be built, despite announcements and billboards and even, in some cases, groundbreaking. The rumors and the failed projects that started with a bang and then, usually, simply faded away from the public eye.
When it comes to new attractions -- don't believe it 'till you see it. You won't be seeing:
Bible WorldBack in the 1970's a biblical theme park was proposed for Kissimmee. This proposed park is not the Holy Land Experience which did open, or the Bibleland of the 1950's, but a park on the same theme that never happened.
Blockbuster ParkKnown to the irreverent as "Wayne's World", Blockbuster Park was a giant sports and theme park complex proposed for Broward County by Blockbuster Video stores owner H. Wayne Huizenga in the early 1990's. While the park was working its way through zoning and permitting (and tax concessions were being pondered by the legislature), Wayne sold Blockbuster to Viacom, which nixed the project. (Viacom would become theme park owners anyway with the acquisition of Paramount and that company's already developed parks.)
The Blockbuster Golf & Games FEC in Sunrise is not this development, which was to have included a theme park, a waterpark, sports stadiums, and more on over 2,400 acres (that's a little like comparing a goofy golf course to Walt Disney World.) Blockbuster Golf & Games was permitted and financed separately.
Charlie Daniels Western World and Theme ParkIn 1994, Country fiddler Daniels and Florida stockbroker Michael Vandiver were at a Las Vegas rodeo when they got the idea of developing a rodeo arena back in Pasco County, Florida. Soon the project grew into a huge complex offering a full arena, concert venues, hotels, golf courses, and a western themed theme park on 1,954 acres near Saddlebrook at I-75 and SR 54.
They had the land, they had the ideas, and they had powerhouse themed entertainment designers Landmark Entertainment Group working on the plan, including a 3D show based on Daniels' popular hit "The Devil Went Down To Georgia" . What they were still working on is the funding.
In the 1990's Vandiver told the St. Petersburg Times: "Five years ago, I would have said (the chances of pulling this project off) probably weren't a hundred percent. A year ago, I would have said 50 percent. Now I'm at about 85 to 90 percent. Things are happening."
The park was to have opened in 1997.
What? You don't want to think about hurricanes on your vacation?
This Orlando project was supposed to be both a serious hurricane research center, and a tourist attraction featuring giant simulated storms. Now, it's gone with the wind.
InteramaIn 1951 the State of Florida created the Inter-American Center Authority to build a cultural and trade center. A trade center building was built, but the cultural part...
A permanent international exhibition park was planned -- inspiration taken half from past Worlds Fairs and half from the new Disneyland in California. It would be a theme park, but unlike other theme park projects, it was hoped that the governments of the various countries would contribute to the building of their representative pavilions much as they do for a Worlds Fair, except that this would be a permanent commitment.
The United States was looked to to provide the bulk of the financing, and bills to that effect were put before Congress by Rep. Claude Pepper, always happy to try and bring home the Pork to his district.
Land in North Miami was acquired and shortly after a huge sign touting the park's development was erected.
Congress, meanwhile, declined to fund the project. One after the other, Latin and South American Governments, with poverty to deal with in their own lands, declined to participate. (By the same token, Walt Disney World's EPCOT, which relies on sponsorships when building its national pavilions, showcases no South American nations.)
Private funding was sought, but little found. Interama continued to drift as a project for years, always hopeful, always just around the corner, never built.
Complications in the contracts involving the site itself, as well as a fight with the Department of Environmental Regulation over part of the site's use as a landfill, kept the land tied up right into the 1980's as the City of North Miami, stuck with paying off bonds on the unproductive land, lobbied the State of Florida to purchase the property.
In 1985 the State and City finally made a deal as the Legislature voted to buy the 300 acre tract, most of which would go to expand Florida International University's Bay Vista Campus.
Jim Fowler's Life In the Wild Theme Park
The Fowler Center for Wildlife Education announced plans to build a wildlife park to be named "Jim Fowler's Life In the Wild Theme Park," at I-10 and Highway 79 in the Panhandle region, near Bonifay. Construction was supposed to begin in 2008.
Little England (AKA British Kingdom)British grocery store magnate Lewis Cartier was the developer of this British themed theme park slated for Kissimmee in the early 1980's. Land was even cleared and a few buildings constructed, including a preview center, before the project ran into financial trouble. Actual building materials, and even buildings, were imported from England for the first phase, a small but authentic country village.
Unfortunately, the ancient english tiles and wood were no match for neglect and the hot, humid Florida weather -- after the project stalled the buildings eventually had to be demolished, deemed unsalvageable after the local insects had a feast on prime British Oak.
A housing development eventually went into the nicely prepared site with with no hint of a British theme in sight.
Orlando Thrill Park
Announced by The Baker Leisure Group and I-Drive Investors LLC in October, 2010, Orlando Thrill Park was supposed to be a roller coaster heavy, thrill-ride oriented amusement park that would occupy a 70 acre site off of Orlando's International Drive between Festival Bay Mall and Prime Outlets Mall.
They had the money, and they had the plans -- but they didn't have the support of homeowners in the neighboring Tangelo Park neighborhood who, concerned about noise, traffic, and a potential decline in property values, fought the proposed park. At an April 2011 meeting the city Municipal Planning Board voted unanimously to deny the zoning and land-use changes the park needed to go forward. After an attempt to make a deal with the board failed the investors announced that June that the project was dead.
Paidia's DestiNations Theme Park
Some outfit named Paidia Parks announced in 2005 a project for Osceola County, on the old Vedaland parcel, to be called "Paidia's DestiNations Theme Park and Resort" saying: "We seek to bring the world’s most exotic and exciting places together and put them within reach, and at the very heart and essence of our mission is the quest for peace and hope through the understanding and appreciation of the many diverse cultures on Earth." Sounds like Epcot-lite. Opening was slated for Summer 2007, but don't hold your breath considering they don't seem to have been heard from since, and the slated spring 2006 groundbreaking never happened.
Paramount OrlandoThe Orlando Sentinel once reported the rumor that Paramount was looking to buy the old Lockheed Martin property to build a film studio. Paramount did not, in fact, buy it (Universal Studios did, but later sold it). Viacom, Paramount's then owners, had very little interest in developing more theme parks -- see Blockbuster Park above. Eventually, Viacom sold off their Paramount Parks to CedarFair.
Ah, Paris in the springtime. Who could resist standing on the upper observation deck of the Eiffel Tower at dusk, looking out over the romantic mansard roofs of... North Miami?
In the late 1950's a group of developers announced plans for Paris, U.S.A., a tourist attraction slated for 150 acres just off the Sunshine State Parkway near the Dade-Broward county line. The centerpiece of the park was to be a 1,000 ft. tall replica of the Eiffel Tower, to be erected at an estimated cost of $12,000,000 and expected to attract about 2,000,000 tourists a year. At the base of the tower was to be a French street area with shops and restaurants, as well as a kiddieland ride area to keep the little ones occupied while mom and dad browsed the imported goods for sale.
The complex was to have opened in 1959 and yet it never did. C'est la vie.
Roy Rogers Western World
Western Star Roy Rogers announced plans for a huge resort/dude ranch/western theme park in the early 1960's and claimed to be searching for a suitable site in the Orlando area. No less a figure than Florida's Governor Burns was on hand at Roy's press conferences to pledge his assistance. Roy never found that site and finally said happy trails to Florida.
Safari Wild was to have been a game farm and attraction featuring exotic African and Asian animals. Although parts of the planned park were constructed, animals were obtained, and it even managed to open somewhat for limited private tours, it was never fully able to open completely as planned due to a troubled legal history.
First, former Lowry Park Zoo Director Lex Salisbury, one of Safari Wild's co-owners, was accused of diverting funds from Lowry Park to Safari Wild. The zoo had paid for construction of several buildings at Safari Wild, however, some Lowry Park animals that needed to be removed from the stress of exhibition had been boarded for a time at Safari Wild, and a deal was finally struck between Salisbury and the Zoo to straighten out the accounting. He was cleared of criminal wrongdoing in the matter by The Florida Department of Law Enforcement in 2010.
Then, it also didn't help that construction had been begun on a visitor center for the attraction in 2007 without permits, which brought on a series of legal challenges from Polk County and the Southwest Florida Water Management District. It also became hard to hide that something unusual was going on at the property after a troup of 15 Patas monkeys escaped and were seen roaming the countryside before they were recaptured. The County finally did approve the project after the fact, but then that approval had to face a challenge by the State.
As it was situated on 258 acres north of Lakeland on Moore Road, this put it within the Green Swamp Area of Critical State Concern and drew opposition from local ranchers, environmental groups, and the Florida Department of Community Affairs. On July 30, 2010, Administrative Law Judge David Maloney, (following an administrative hearing conducted that April) issued a Recommended Order that the Polk County Development Order be quashed and to deny permission to Safari Wild to develop the Safari Wild project. Then, on November 9th, 2010, the Florida Cabinet, sitting as the Florida Land and Water Adjudicatory Commission, upheld the Judge's recommendation. The big attraction plans now appear dead, although a greatly modified version, now called Safari Wilderness Ranch, has been approved to operate as an agritourism business, with limited hours, limited visitation, and restrictions disalowing any animals that pose a threat to humans.
Six Flags Florida
Yes, Six Flags did once look into buying Circus World. They passed. A Jacksonville politician tried to get them to build in that area. They looked, but they passed. They once owned Stars Hall of Fame and Six Flags Atlantis in Florida -- they sold them. Six Flags has not, to date, announced any plans for a Florida theme park whatsoever, and consistently denies all rumors.
Desipte this, not a year goes by without a coaster enthusiast announcing that their uncle's brother's friend's friend is a sewer worker who says they're working on a secret construction project to build a new Six Flags in Florida. Never happens.
It would seem many enthusiasts are laboring under a basic misunderstanding of how major construction projects actually happen in the real world. A business like Six Flags does not and cannot just buy a big plot of land and start building. Major projects like theme parks simply do not get to the construction stage without publicity following a lengthy zoning approval process before the local government. There are permits to be applied for, at which point the project becomes a matter of public record and the local media jump all over it. Environmental impact statements must be filed. Zoning hearings must take place. Usually, a group of locals makes a very noisy protest over it (see the history of most other modern theme parks). Public corporations like Six Flags must also inform shareholders what they're up to, so major projects will also be mentioned in their SEC filings and annual reports.
What this means is, if you haven't been seeing reports in the news for the past year about the planning and permitting process for such a theme park, and some twit assures you that they know someone who is involved in clearing land, or digging ditches, or breaking ground for one -- you can be assured that they are either delusional or lying to you. You simply can't clear the first bush or turn a spade of dirt on your property without a building permit.
There are no secret theme park construction projects. "What about Disney?" the enthusiast complains. "Disney World was built in secret." No, sorry. The aquisition of land was carried out mostly in secret, but the Orlando Sentinal blew Disney's cover before even that was finished. Secrecy was needed in this case because Disney was buying up huge tracts of land to put together a site of more than 20,000 acres, much more than could be aquired from a single land owner. A Six Flags park would require less than a thousand acres that could be aquired in the single purchase of a large farm or ranch.
Construction on Walt Disney World, on the other hand, didn't begin until several years later after a very public act of the Florida Legislature approved it, several press conferences were held, and years of publicity announced the fact. Look at every major recent theme park building project, completed or not (Visionland, Jazzland, the reopening of Magic Springs, Disney's California Adventure, Entercitement City, World of Oz, etc.) and you can find a paper trail going back for years in the press, from proposal through construction, with big press events held at the groundbreaking ceremonies.
New construction is also unlikely right now in this already overcrowded market. Orlando's theme parks depend on long distance tourism, while Six Flags style ride parks rely more on regional visitors on daytrips. The people elsewhere in the country don't need to visit a Six Flags park on an expensive Florida vacation -- chances are they already live near one back home. They come to Florida to get something they can't get at home: Disney and Universal. That leaves the locals market, which is already served by Busch Gardens, as well as the Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld parks (which is why they offer resident discounts on annual passes and other resident deals).
While local enthusiasts always predict that a thrill ride oriented park would do better than Disney or Universal, that just shows a basic misunderstanding of the market. The money is in family travel, not roving packs of teen enthusiasts (something the former Six Flags management discovered a little too late to prevent a take-over). Boardwalk and Baseball tried going the thrill ride route and never made a profit. Islands of Adventure was touted as a Disney-beater by enthusiasts before it opened, yet even Disney's half-day Animal Kingdom usually sees more annual visitors (attendance at IOA since the opening of the Harry Potter attraction has been much higher -- but note this is a family oriented addition based on a hugely popular media property that rethemed the existing roller coasters rather than adding more and is far above anything Six Flags has ever attempted).
It's easy for coaster enthusiasts to picture a Florida Six Flags park the equal of, say, Magic Mountain (which still attracts fewer visitors than Disneyland in the same market and can't even stay open 365 days a year), but that's in no way what a newly constructed park would look like. It takes years for a park to get that many coasters, one or two at a time, year after year. Even if Six Flags did build in Florida the park would look more like Visionland or Jazzland did when they opened than a Disney-class park due to the starting investment required. (Islands of Adventure cost nearly a billion dollars and enthusiasts still think it needs more rides). Still think Six Flags would outdo Disney?
Disney also has an advantage in this market no outsider has: the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Back in the 1960's the Florida Legislature basically gave Disney the ability to build whatever they want, whenever they want, without a lengthy approval process. If they wanted to, in the time it would take Six Flags to get approval, Disney could build their own competing ride park and open first (as they managed to open Disney-MGM Studios between Universal's announcement of a Studios theme park and the actual opening). Disney has a history of building their own versions of the competition and outselling them (note the similarities between Animal Kingdom and Busch Gardens, The Living Seas and Sea World, Disney-MGM and Universal Studios, the now defunct Pleasure Island nightclubs and the now defunct Church Street Station, their waterparks and Wet 'n Wild, Disney's California Adventure and Knott's Berry Farm, Disney's West Side and Citywalk...) and Six Flags knows this, making the huge investment an Orlando park would take a huge risk.
Also, consider this: Six Flags hasn't developed a park from scratch in decades. They prefered to buy existing parks and convert them (although lately they've been selling or closing parks -- remember Six Flags Astroworld, Six Flags Kentucky Kingdom, Six Flags New Orleans...). As I update this article in 2011, the company is emerging from Chapter 11 and is not likely to buy or build anything new soon, in any market, let alone one as crowded as Central Florida.
What about elsewhere in Florida? South Florida has a large population, but it's still in the outer range for the Orlando parks, while Southwest Florida can reach Busch Gardens. It's an old population, however, with a smaller group in the young theme park demographic than would appear at first glance. There's also a limitation in driving range -- build a park in Miami and you serve that area but Orlando is to the north, there's only a small population to the south, a swamp to the immediate west, and nothing but water to the East, making the population sparse in the outlying areas compared to parks in other areas of the country that can draw from miles around them. It could possibly support a smallish park, but the track record for getting new projects approved (see Blockbuster Park and Interama, among others) isn't good, and Pirates World failed, as has the Dania Beach Hurricane. Maybe somebody will go in someday, but it sure won't be Six Flags any time soon.
The Jacksonville area is another possibility, but when the local government practically offered to give Six Flags free land in the booming 1990's Six Flags turned them down. To the South of Jacksonville the older population of some of the other counties would be expected to fight any big development (the head of the St. Johns County Tourist and Convention Bureau even said in the late 1990's that they didn't want a Six Flags there), and don't forget that Marco Polo Park flopped. That area is also still within reach of Orlando, as well as Wild Adventures in Valdosta, Georgia.
The panhandle has become a more likely target now that Miracle Strip has closed, but the population including tourists couldn't support anything much bigger than Miracle Strip already was (the land under the park proved more valuable than the amusement park operation). A big park will not be going in there any time soon (yeah, I know, a Six Flags has been rumored for years in that area, but they have always flatly denied those rumors -- it's just not true).
I've also heard rumors for the Spring Hill area and Sebring -- also not gonna happen. Look at a map: modern theme parks are not built without major Interstate Highway access. A theme park could never get approval to add that kind of traffic to clogged US 19 or US 27: every retiree home owners association for miles would protest it. Parks you can't get to go out of business.
The idea of a Six Flags Florida is still just wishful thinking on the part of coaster enthusiasts. And, if they ever do decide to build in Florida, you won't have to hear it from your Mother's Brother's friend's dental hygenist's bridesmaid's nephew -- it'll be in the news long before construction begins.
Veda LandNew age magician Doug Henning announced in 1990 plans to build a theme park in Kissimmee, just west of Old Town, based on Magic and Transcendental Meditation. Then, Henning announced that he would build the first Veda Land in Canada, near Niagara Falls. Shortly thereafter the project, not unlike Henning's career, slowly faded, then disappeared. Henning died on February 7, 2000 at the age of only 52.
WinterWonderlandoWith a name like that, I almost wish they had built this cool sounding park. Instead, I'll keep dreaming of a white Christmas in Orlando.
OthersOther rumors/proposed projects have included Legoland Florida (which remained a rumor for years until they bought out the already existing Cypress Gardens), Dollywood Orlando (Dolly's company built a musical dinner theater, NOT a theme park, and then that closed), and Opryland Orlando (Gaylord planned a hotel, not a theme park -- they already had closed Opryland Theme Park in Nashville before constructing the Gaylord Palms Hotel and Conference Center).
Photo of Roy, Dale, and the Gov. courtesy of the Florida State Archives Photographic Collection. Interama graphic from early Interama promotional materials in the author's collection. Hurricane World concept art from the author's collection.
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