Busch Gardens owes contractors more than $2.5 million for bills due during pandemic

From unpaid concrete work to water slides, vendors have filed liens against parent company Sea World for missing payouts.
The Busch Gardens entrance pictured on Friday, April 26, 2019 in Tampa.
The Busch Gardens entrance pictured on Friday, April 26, 2019 in Tampa. [ LUIS SANTANA | Tampa Bay Times ]
Published June 10, 2020|Updated June 10, 2020

TAMPA — Busch Gardens and its parent company Sea World owe a slew of vendors and contractors a total of more than $2.5 million for bills that came due during the pandemic, according to liens filed against the entertainment group in Hillsborough County.

The theme park, which reopens Thursday, was forced to shutter March 16 to lessen the spread of COVID-19. At the same time, hundreds of thousands of dollars were due for improvements to the park ranging from awnings to new water rides. From March 1 to now, 24 liens have been filed against the Tampa theme park.

The bulk of the debt stems from Friedrich Watkins Company, a Tampa resort and hotel renovations company, and Canadian waterpark company Whitewater West Industries. Both companies are owed about $1 million each, according to court documents.

“We have been communicating with our valued vendors, contractors and subcontractors regarding delayed payments," SeaWorld Parks & Entertainment said in a statement. "Understanding these liens are often required by law to protect a financial claim, we have every intent to fulfill our contractual obligations. We greatly appreciate their understanding and patience during this unprecedented time.”

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Seven companies are affected, mostly local vendors. When reached by phone, three local companies declined to comment.

Florida’s tourism sector has been hit hard by the virus, which almost overnight put thousands of hotel and theme park employees out of work. The closures came during spring break season, a usual annual peak for Busch Gardens.

SeaWorld Entertainment furloughed 95 percent of its staff in response to the virus. Busch Gardens kept close to 200 employees to maintain the grounds and take care of the park’s animals.

In March, Sea World’s stock price per share dropped below $7.50. Its first-quarter earnings, which came out at the beginning of May, showed the theme park group lost $67 million in total revenue and 1 million guests compared to the first quarter of 2019.

Guests who reserved time slots to be among the first to return to the park this week will have their temperatures checked and be required to wear masks, except while eating or on water rides.