LEGOLAND Florida Resort continues to make a positive impact on Winter Haven and Polk County, with no signs of slowing down.
Its latest bit of news came recently, when toymaker LEGO and a group of investors (private equity firm Blackstone and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board ) announced they were buying Merlin Entertainment, which owns eight Legolands and other properties, for $6 billion. Merlin accepted the deal offered by Kirkbi Invest, and its stock price jumped from $10.04 to $11.35 before leveling off to about $11.25 — a 12% increase.
“Merlin is a global leader in location-based, family entertainment, with a unique portfolio of brands and attractions spanning 25 countries and four continents, and with a proven strategy that has delivered over many years,” Merlin Chairman John Sunderland said in a statement. “The company has generated meaningful value since (its) IPO, with significant growth in revenue, earnings and cash flow.”
After rejecting several offers, Merlin decided to sell at a price that Sunderland said was good for shareholders.
In the nearly eight years LEGOLAND Florida Resort has been open, it’s been good for the local economy — not just shareholders.
This year has seen growth, especially with the March 2019 opening of the largest park expansion, THE LEGO MOVIE WORLD, said Shawn Mikus, director of public relations at LEGOLAND Florida Resort. That area contains new rides, a place where children can meet characters, and more. It’s “quickly developed into a fan favorite with many of our guests.”
A month after LEGOLAND opened its first hotel in June 2015, the average room rate at area hotels hit more than $100 a night for the first time, according to an Orlando Sentinel article. It hasn’t slipped under that mark since then.
“Not only have they elevated hotel rates, but they have also elevated demand for hotels,” said Katie Worthington Decker, president and CEO of the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce. “This has increased the quality of accommodations that we are attracting. The Courtyard (Marriott) across the street is a prime example. They have also elevated Polk County to the international stage as a destination through their marketing efforts. We have also seen additional businesses build in proximity to the park, no doubt due to the traffic they generate.” Starbucks, which built right in front of the park, is an example.
The theme park, which was the former home of Cypress Gardens, is also seeing people stay in its hotels longer, Mikus said.
“With the park’s continuous growth and expansion of attractions and offerings, such as our recent nine-hole mini golf course for hotel guests only, more guests are enjoying longer stays at LEGOLAND Resort and Beach Retreat,” Mikus said.
Because of the demand for more rooms, LEGOLAND is adding a third option for families to stay overnight — the Pirate Island Hotel, scheduled to open in spring 2020. “Pirate Island Hotel will be completely LEGO Pirate themed and will add another 150-fun filled rooms to the LEGOLAND Florida Resort hotel portfolio,” Mikus said.
Mikus couldn’t comment on how he thinks the sale of the park may affect LEGOLAND Florida Resort, but Worthington Decker said she thinks it will “only mean more positive progress for the park.”
“From what I’ve seen over the last eight years, LEGO is fervent about their brand, and they will no doubt want to see the brand shown in the best light in the park,” she said.
And LEGOLAND continues to be involved in the community, she said. “They are investing in the future of the community through our stakeholder organizations. They work directly with Polk State College on providing training, jobs and internships for their students. They work with Lake Regional High School Junior Achievement. And the list goes on and on.
She doesn’t expect any of that to change.
“LEGOLAND continues to be transformational for Winter Haven,” Worthington Decker said. “Their continued investments in the park create reasons for guests to come back time and time again, and they continue to fulfill their promise to make LEGOLAND a multi-day attraction.”