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Thousands flock to see plans for Winter Haven's Legoland

Tim Davis and his daughter, Brooke, 6, examine the White House replica, complete with the first family on the front porch, on display at the Legoland Florida open house in Winter Haven.

The Ledger

Tim Davis and his daughter, Brooke, 6, examine the White House replica, complete with the first family on the front porch, on display at the Legoland Florida open house in Winter Haven.

WINTER HAVEN — If Thursday's open house to unveil plans for Legoland Florida was a concert, then Legoland officials were rock stars.

Contractors, job seekers, children and the curious clamored for information about the theme park scheduled to open in fall 2011.

The interest was so high that Winter Haven police officers had to direct traffic to and from the Orange Dome at the Chain of Lakes Complex where Legoland officials offered glimpses of what's to come. City officials estimated that more than 3,000 people came to the open house.

Ashley Holmes, a 12-year-old from Auburndale, was among those who found the plans creative and entertaining.

"Children see them (Lego building bricks) as fun and a way to express themselves," Ashley said. "I think all the designs are fun."

The open house, intended to show how the former Cypress Gardens will be transformed into an interactive theme park, included artist renderings of plans for some attractions.

Lego models, such as the White House with the Obamas standing on the steps, were on display, and stations were set up for people to build their own models.

John Jakobsen, managing director for Legoland Parks, said park officials have been looking for a Florida location for 10 years and Cypress Gardens, between the Orlando and Tampa markets, is the perfect location.

"We're offering a brand that's known already and has the ability to draw people from other locations," he said.

Jakobsen said 1,000 workers will be hired by opening day. So far, 25 people have been hired.

More than 50 rides, shows and attractions will be featured at the park, Jakobsen said. Attractions include the Factory Tour, which shows how Lego bricks are molded and shaped.

Admission prices for the park are still being decided, said Kim Isemann, director of sales and marketing.

John Ussher, Legoland's general manager of development, received thunderous applause when he said company officials plan to keep the botanical gardens that were an essential element of the old Cypress Gardens.

Merlin Entertainments Group acquired the defunct Cypress Gardens theme park in January. Merlin, the world's second-largest owner of tourist attractions, currently operates four Legoland parks — three in Europe and one near San Diego.

In addition to the curious, contractors looking for business were hoping to rub shoulders with Legoland officials. Ryan Whitehead, vice president of Everett Whitehead & Son Inc., said his construction business is 3 miles from the theme park.

"I just think everybody is anxious and hoping to get a glimpse of the site plan," Whitehead said. "It would be good to keep the money local. I think it's important, especially with today's financial environment."

Winter Haven City Manager Dale Smith said he loved seeing the huge turnout.

"It just shows what kind of energy Legoland can inspire for the community," he said.

Tom Patton, executive director of the Central Florida Development Council, was pleased Legoland is getting the community involved early. "I think it's outstanding," he said. "It gives you an idea of what to expect when they officially get here."

Thousands flock to see plans for Winter Haven's Legoland 07/08/10 [Last modified: Friday, July 9, 2010 9:29pm]
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