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Cypress Gardens Getting New Management Team

The Ledger

Original Article »

January 02, 2008

The new owners of Cypress Gardens anounced this afternoon that management of the attraction is being turned over from former owner Kent Buescher to Baker Leisure Group of Orlando.

An announcement from the park described Baker Leisure Group as one of the premiere consulting and management specialists in the themed attractions industry.

The announcement by owners Rob Harper and Brian Philpot was made during a 2 p.m. news conference held at Cypress Gardens.

"The change does not affect the attraction’s operating staff, but replaces the contractor that had been managing Cypress Gardens on interim basis," the two said in a press release.

The announcement is coming on the park's 72nd anniversary. The state's first theme park was opened on Jan. 2, 1936. The new owners purchased it in October.

“We are fortunate to have Baker Leisure Group at Cypress Gardens. They are one of the premier management companies in the world and based in Central Florida. Cypress Gardens needs a strong community presence, an element the Baker group understands,” said Harper and Philpot.

Baker Leisure Group has handled assignments ranging from the popular Coca- Cola Olympic City at the 1996 Atlanta Olympic Games to planning, opening and managing Al Shallal, Saudi Arabia one of the largest theme parks in the Middle East. The firm was founded in 1988 by 40-year theme park and attractions management specialist Steve Baker.

"Visitors to Cypress Gardens will notice a more lively, interactive, engaging atmosphere as we move forward," said Steve Baker, whose company has assumed operational control of the attraction.

"We provide the best overall guest experience possible," he said. " The changes will range from cosmetic to cultural. Cypress Gardens enthusiasts will recognize and applaud the changes and potential guests, particularly families living in the fast-growing Polk County metropolitan area, will have plenty of reasons to want to visit the attraction for the first time or make a return visit."

Baker said operational changes will address intangibles such as more extensive staff training, revised internal operating procedures such as queue line management and more accessible food and beverage service, as well as more visible changes.

Cypress Gardens, which became Cypress Gardens Adventure Park in 2004, has been in trouble since the attraction was devastated by the trio of hurricanes that hit Polk County in August and September of 2004.

Kent Buescher bought the park for $7 million before the hurricanes hit. He was seen as the savior of the historic attraction that had trouble attracting enough customers to pay the bills.

Buescher had plans to improve the park and broaden its customer base, but the hurricanes hit before he could reopen the park.

It was a blow that he never recovered from.

By 2007 he was about $135 million in debt for both Cypress Gardens and a second amusement park he owns, Wild Adventures Theme Park in Valdosta, Ga.

Buescher sold both Cypress Gardens and Wild Adventures after filling for Chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Philpot and Harper, who own Land South Holdings in Mulberry, bought Cypress Gardens in October for $16.8 million.

The company has a reputation for flipping property for a quick profit, which fueled speculation that Cypress Gardens could become condominiums or a commercial development - or both.

That can't be the case because the state has placed restrictions on the land that prohibits development other than for a park.

The new owners have insisted they're in Cypress Garden for the long haul. They say the business plan for Cypress Gardens was a good one, but impossible to execute because of the mountain of debt. That debt no longer exists.

In an unusual move, Philpot and Harper kept Buescher on as the chief executive officer of Cypress Gardens.



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