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ORLANDO-A Florida land-acquisition committee has unanimously agreed that the shuttered, 67-year-old Cypress Gardens attraction in Winter Haven, FL should be preserved in its natural state and not be left for commercial development.

The panel is urging Gov. Jeb Bush and his Cabinet to buy the 230-acre property, 60 miles south of Downtown Orlando, for an undetermined price from a seven-member private investment group headed by former Anheuser-Bush executives Larry Maxwell and William Reynolds, and Mark Schreiber.

The park closed April 13 after dwindling attendance had plagued the attraction for the past several years. About 530 workers lost their jobs. The governor and his Cabinet are scheduled to vote on the acquisition Aug. 12.

If Bush and his aides vote to buy Cypress Gardens, the next crucial hurdle will be price. A recent Polk County appraisal puts the value of the property at $12 million or about $40,000 per acre (92 cents per sf). A new appraisal, which would be ordered by the state, could assess the park at about $15 million or $65,217 per acre ($1.50 per sf), area brokers intimate with the deal tell GlobeSt.com.

Tied to the price factor will be an equally crucial decision by the governor and his aides on which operator to select to run Cypress Gardens. Two prominent developers have made proposals to the state.

Orlando-based David A. Siegel, president and founder of Central Florida Investments Inc., the largest privately held timeshare development firm in the state, says he would operate and maintain the park on a 99-year-lease and plow back any profits to the state, even if it meant he personally would be losing money on the deal. He has told Bush he has a $5 million check ready to submit to the state as escrow, guaranteeing that he will hold up his end of the deal.

Atlanta-based Kent Buescher, owner of the Wild Adventures theme park in Valdosta, GA, wants to buy the park outright and sell the state a conservation easement that would preserve the park’s historical aspects. He is ready to invest $30 million in the first year for new amusement rides and property maintenance. He would then guarantee to invest $5 million a year to promote, landscape and upgrade Cypress Gardens.

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