Rob Harper and Brian Philpot of Land South Holdings are the proud new owners of the historic Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, FL – about 35 minutes southeast of Walt Disney World. They recently announced a change of management from the park’s previous owner to a new team led by Orlando based Baker Leisure Group. Having a management team with local ties was important because:
As soon as we bought it, we knew there was a huge following, Cypress Gardens, and we had always followed it … A lot of the alumni reached out to us, which we opened our arms to, and actually some them became some of our advisers, because they were so passionate about the Gardens – because they skied (here) 50 years ago or was a (Southern) Belle 30 years ago and so forth.
"You bought history, and it’s not very often you can buy history." So that kind of stuck with both of us. We never thought of it as buying history, but we did … so that’s kind of what started this whole "We need to preserve it," you know?
That’s exactly the right attitude. It’s important to note that preserving history does not always mean avoiding change either. There is a majority of the Amusement Park that isn’t tied to the rich history where some tinkering can go on. I haven’t been back to see if any changes have been implemented already. But it sounds like we should expect to see some soon.
One new audience that the Baker group looks to try and bring to Cypress Gardens is the foreign tourist.
An international visitor stays in Central Florida almost two weeks and they are at Disney, Universal three or four days. So they’ve got a tremendous amount of time on their hands. And you can get to those people before they leave their houses in the U.K. and Spain and France. You can get to them … and be part of that two-week package.
That would be an interesting mix at the park, teenagers looking for a hangout, seniors and locals enjoying some of the classic appeal, and international guests trying to figure out what all this is about. If you’re going to go for the international business it is probably a good idea to play up the Hollywood connection to the park (Esther Williams) and the history of the water shows.
Finally, what to expect for the future? Good things I think. I’m not so sure about not needing another attraction. The park definitely needs a dark ride or two (one with modern dark ride technology and one for the kiddies). But I like what I see here:
But I think what I want them (park guests) to expect is a better experience. A friendlier experience. An opportunity that they really can’t wait to come back. And I hope they see that the food is better. More food available. Merchandise offerings are better. Neat stuff to buy. A place where you come here to shop. A place where you come here to have lunch or at Christmastime, you know, you’re going to come back because you want to spend four hours shopping. Because that’s the kind of experience I want them to have. That’s where we’re heading. And it all starts with good employees. Like I said last week, that’s the foundation for a good successful park and that’s where we’re starting.
So good luck to the new team at Cypress Gardens. I can’t wait until I get a chance to head down and check it out again.