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"Wayne's World' won't be built

Published Oct. 8, 2005

H. Wayne Huizenga's dream of a sports and entertainment complex on the edge of the Everglades has died, the victim of his decision to sell Blockbuster Entertainment earlier this year.

The company that bought Blockbuster in September for $8-billion decided Friday to kill Blockbuster Park.

Blockbuster's parent company, Viacom, didn't want to build the park _ dubbed "Wayne's World" _ not in the way Blockbuster and Huizenga did.

In the end, the company chose to pull the plug rather than spend $1-billion to push a project with an uncertain future.

"There are only so many things one company can do," Huizenga said. Viacom owns MTV and Paramount Pictures and is seeking to launch a television network.

Viacom officials announced a $600-million spending plan Friday morning, including building 600 new Blockbuster Video stores in 1995, said Dennis McAlpine, an analyst with Josephthal Lyon & Ross.

Viacom, which owns Paramount Pictures, has about $10-billion in debt after buying Blockbuster and Paramount Communications this year.

Jessica Reif, media analyst at Merrill Lynch, said Viacom simply didn't have the capital.

"That's a very intensive project," she said.

Reif said the decision helps Walt Disney Co. by eliminating a possible rival to Disney World and Epcot Center.

Huizenga had envisioned the 2,500-acre park as home for two of his professional sports teams, the Florida Marlins baseball club and the Florida Panthers hockey team.

"The project as we know it is gone. It's dead," Huizenga said.

Blockbuster saw the park as a way to transform itself into an entertainment company. But Viacom already ranks as a leading entertainment company.

The decision was made in New York after a series of budget meetings at Viacom headquarters.

Neither Viacom president Frank Biondi Jr. nor chairman Sumner Redstone were available for comment.

Huizenga said he made no personal pitch to save the park, although he had been a vocal champion all along.

"I'm disappointed with the decision, but I don't disagree with the decision," he said. "I don't think it is a big surprise to any of us."

Huizenga said Blockbuster executives realized they might lose the project about a month ago.

The death of the project leaves a number of unanswered questions. Chief among them is what happens to the land. The project would have sprawled across 3,000 acres of Miramar and northwest Dade County.

Blockbuster owns about 1,800 acres, including 1,600 in Broward County.

Tampa's Busch Gardens, by comparison, is 300 acres.

Huizenga also must decide where to build a new arena for the Panthers. Huizenga pledged to build that arena when he launched the franchise.

Huizenga said he still could build an arena on Blockbuster Park land, but he also will explore other options, including the land at Joe Robbie Stadium.

Environmentalists were thrilled with the decision. They opposed the project they said would destroy wetlands vital to the restoration of the Everglades and to the protection of drinking water supplies.

"We had organized a nationally-based coalition of organizations focused on restoring Everglades that were prepared to go to the wall to stop this development," said Joe Podgor, executive director of Friends of the Everglades.

Blockbuster executives weren't the only ones mourning the loss of the project, however. Economist Mark Vitner at First Union Corp., the North Carolina bank holding company, said the project could have been an economic boon.

"It's a big disappointment, because I think it has the potential to give tourism a good boost in South Florida," Vitner said.

The death of Blockbuster Park also represents a personal defeat for Huizenga, who conceived the project and long was its most ardent fan.

"You don't win every battle that you go into, and this is one we didn't win," Huizenga said. "When you make entrepreneurial decisions, you get burned once in a while."

_ Information from the Associated Press, Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel and Times files was used in this report.

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