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Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Will anyone actually buy Artegon and build a new theme park? Probably not

Posted By on Tue, Nov 1, 2016 at 11:01 AM

click to enlarge Image via Around Osceola
  • Image via Around Osceola

We’ve had plenty of rumors over the years of new theme parks coming to Central Florida, but recently local business journal GrowthSpotter posted a rumor that seems to be much more legitimate than those spread by bus drivers and real estate agents.

According to GrowthSpotter, the seemingly cursed mall now known as Artegon is being looked at by a potential theme park operator. Artegon is currently up for sale, but there hasn’t been anyone who is openly looking at it. GrowthSpotter claims that this new, undisclosed party, interested in both the Artegon property and the undeveloped 77-acre lot just to the south of i, is “a large U.S. theme park developer with international partners.” If that description is completely accurate there’s only a handful of potential prospects. The new project, according GrowthSpotter, would include hotels, a water park, and a theme park.

The buyer would need to work with other owners if they’re looking to redevelop the site. Numerous out parcels, including new ones for a private helipad and a Pollo Tropical, are under different owners. The movie theater and the Bass Pro Shop are also separately owned.

The list of potential theme park operators are narrowing by the day with many experts saying that this is once again an unsubstantiated rumor. While it currently doesn’t have a North American presence, Ferrari World was thought to be a potential option for the mystery theme park, but when asked by Richard Bilbao of the Orlando Business Journal if there were plans for a Ferrari World opening in Orlando a spokesperson said, “None at all. Sorry. I really don’t think this is in the cards.”

Six Flags also confirmed with Bilbao saying that “Presently Six Flags has no plans to build a park in Orlando."

Cedar Fair, a large theme park operator known for its coaster-heavy parks like Cedar Point and Carowinds, is another potential buyer. They also own Knott’s Berry Farm, which shares the Southern California market with Disney and Universal, and their current CEO, Matt Ouimet, is a Disney veteran. Ouimet served various roles at the Disney company including as the senior vice president of finance and business development for Walt Disney World.

Cedar Fair declined to comment on the Orlando park rumors.

Screamscape, a theme park news and rumor site, listed three potential theme park operators including Herschend Family Entertainment, Merlin, which owns the Orlando Eye and Winter Haven’s Legoland Florida theme park, and finally, Parques Reunidos, a Spanish theme park operator that owns Palace Entertainment. Parques Reuindos already has a presence in Florida with the Miami Seaquarium. They also own a number of smaller American parks like Kennywood, Idlewild, and Dutch Wonderland.

Out of those three, Herschend is currently the one that meets the GrowthSpotter description best. That park chain, known for its parks like Dollywood, Stone Mountain, Wild Adventures and Silver Dollar City, also own numerous family entertainment brands that have zero presence in the Orlando market, such as their famous Ride The Ducks tour operators and various aquariums. They also own the Harlem Globetrotters.

The Globetrotters, Ride the Ducks, the aquariums and many other items now owned by Herschend, were purchased when Joel Manby, who is now the CEO of SeaWorld Parks and Resorts, ran Herschend. To have Herschend become a direct competitor to their former CEO’s new parks would be an unprecedented move for a company that prides itself on family values.

Herschend, who The Daily City is guessing as the possible theme park operator, did have an Orlando presence between 2003 and 2008 when it operated the Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede dinner theater here. That dinner theater was closed as part an expansion to the Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets.

There’s technically other theme park operators that have a presence in the U.S. but not with theme parks here. Dalian Wanda Group, a major entertainment company based in China, owns AMC Theaters and the Tampa-based World Triathlon Corporation. Ever since Disney opened its new Shanghai resort, Wanda has become increasingly vocal about its plans to take on the Mouse. After purchasing Legendary Entertainment earlier this year, Wanda became the world’s highest revenue-generating film company. Wanda also recently hired Andrew Kam, the former Managing Director of Hong Kong Disneyland, to spearhead its theme park division. While Wanda has the finances, experience, and brand recognition to give any Orlando theme park a run for their money, there hasn’t been any indication (outside of rumors) of them coming to the market.

There are other theme park operators with the finances to possibly enter the Orlando market, but they don’t currently have a U.S. presence. OCT, which owned the now closed Splendid China park in Kissimmee, has seen success with its Happy Valley branded parks in China. These Six Flags-style parks typically feature a smaller footprint and include other amenities, like hotels and water parks, similar to the one rumored to be coming to the Artegon property.

Other possible international operators include the Chimelong Group, the Shenzhen Huaqiang Group, and Village Roadshow. Village Roadshow is the only one out of these four that has a presence in the United States, but it is by no means "large." While they do own the Wet'n'Wild water park in Las Vegas (no relation the Wet ‘n Wild here in Orlando) that doesn't really make them a theme park developer. Orlando-based SeaWorld Parks did announce a partnership with Village Roadshow, which owns the unaffiliated Sea World marine mammal park in Australia, for an international expansion back in 2014, but there are few details on when/if that deal will still happen.

Even with 8 possible theme park operators, this new park seems a bit unrealistic. As with all new theme park rumors, it’s not a done deal until the day the park opens for business (and sometimes even then it’s not a sure thing).

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