THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Newly defunct Florida Splendid China theme park was a local anomaly

By Mike Schneider
Associated Press / January 18, 2004
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ORLANDO, Fla. -- While Florida Splendid China closed on the last day of 2003 after struggling for 10 years to find a moneymaking niche, other local theme parks had no such troubles. A crowded Walt Disney World claimed record attendance over the Christmas holidays, and Universal Orlando and SeaWorld Orlando felt healthy enough to increase ticket prices by $2.

The contrast in fortunes marked the latest in a Darwinian shakeout in central Florida's tourism market, where only the biggest and strongest have survived two years of stagnant growth since the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

Other properties that have closed recently include the Hyatt Orlando and decades-old Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven, although a Georgia theme park owner is negotiating to buy it. Florida Splendid China's owners hope to find another buyer, too.

"If the market grows, everybody gets their share," said Steve Baker, a theme park consultant.

The problem for the 76-acre Florida Splendid China was that the market wasn't growing for the past two years. On good days, the theme park, indirectly owned by the Chinese government, averaged 400 visitors who came to see the park's miniature replicas of Chinese landmarks and watch its acrobatic performers.

By contrast, parks at Walt Disney World, Universal Orlando, and SeaWorld Orlando average tens of thousands of people daily.

Visitors to Florida Splendid China on its last day lamented its closing but were quick to point out the reasons. Shinji Motoyama, 26, a financial analyst from Miami, noted that the park hadn't been well maintained. Dirt was encased on Buddha statues and some speaker boxes weren't working.

"It's not so good, the preservation," said Motoyama, who was visiting with his parents. "It seems old and broken in some places."

Victor Trinh, a computer scientist from Washington who was visiting the park while in Orlando for a family reunion, said Florida Splendid China probably outlived its usefulness as a pro-China propaganda tool. A holding company of China Travel Service, which is a Chinese government travel agency, owns the park.

News of Florida Splendid's closing caused a boost in attendance on its last day. The park had about 750 visitors.

Two Disney parks, the Magic Kingdom, which can hold around 50,000 people, and Animal Kingdom, which can hold between 25,000 and 30,000 visitors, were so crowded visitors were turned away during the week between Christmas and New Year's Day. Another Disney park, Epcot, had record attendance.

Officials at the Florida parks owned by Anheuser-Busch, SeaWorld Orlando, and Busch Gardens in Tampa were so confident about the prospects for 2004 that they rang in the new year by raising ticket prices by $2.

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