A major expansion plan for Legoland Florida Resort has emerged with new rides and attractions arranged on land currently being used for parking at the theme park.
Plans recently filed in the Southwest Florida Water Management District reveal parent company, Merlin Entertainments Group, is seeking to clear about 4.5 acres of its existing parking lot and build a new section of its 145-acre theme park.
The application labels the project as “Legoland Venus,” and it is located west of Cypress Gardens Boulevard and southeast of Bus Loop Drive.
Submitted conceptual plans show there’s room for at least a half dozen new rides and attractions, as well as a new 11,850-square-foot building, play areas and picnic tables. A pedestrian crosswalk across Bus Loop Drive would link the new section to the existing Lego Movie World area of the park.
Legoland Florida Resort spokeswoman Kelly Hornick confirmed the theme park is gearing up for what she calls its “next big build,” but wouldn’t comment further on expansion plans.
“You’ll have to wait until next year for more expansion news,” she said in an email exchange with GrowthSpotter.
The Winter Haven theme park has steadily been growing over the years.
In 2018, the company opened its “Great Lego Race” coaster, followed by a year later when the park debuted its Lego Movie World attraction. Lego Movie World, an 80,000-square-foot cinematic franchise tribute, added three new rides to its inventory.
And after several month-long delays caused by the coronavirus pandemic, Merlin Entertainments Group finally opened its third Legoland Florida hotel, called Pirate Island, earlier this summer.
The five-story, 150-room hotel, combined with plans for the 4.5-acre expansion, all fall in line with early set goals announced by Legoland Florida’s general manager Adrian Jones in 2017, to continuously grow and have at least two more hotels at the Winter Haven theme park and resort by 2024.
Any new attractions at the theme park may pertain to its upcoming tenth birthday in October 2021, and may be announced then, Matt Roseboom, owner of Orlando-based Attractions Magazine said.
“They’ve done nothing but expand since they first opened, and they’ve consistently added land and rides and shows,” Roseboom said. He guesses the theme park company may be preparing to announce a new land or themed area.
Dennis Speigel, founder and CEO, International Theme Park Services Inc. is also willing to make that bet.
He said he believes the expansion will be for a new themed area, like what the Walt Disney Company did with Fantasyland, or when Universal Orlando Resort’s announced its Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
“Rather than just adding one attraction, [theme parks] are adding themed areas to get the additional spin from guests, so they put in retail, food and beverage to complement the rides based on the themes of what they’re developing.”
Legoland Florida was the first large theme park to reopen during the pandemic when it invited visitors back June 1. At the time, the theme park was operating under 50% capacity, which only allows up to 6,000 people.
But despite the pandemic, and an estimated likely loss of attendance at its park, Legoland is pushing ahead with a number of new plans, including the expansion at Winter Haven.
Next year, Merlin Entertainments Group is opening up a new Legoland theme park in Goshen, New York.
“I think their timing is good, particularly if they have the capital, which I think they do from the reports I read,” Speigel said. “They’re positioning themselves properly to announce something new when people are prepared to come back.
The parking lot where Merlin Entertainments Group is looking to expand features the necessary zoning entitlements and land uses to accommodate retail and restaurant use, as well as space for rides and attractions.
That means, the site plans, construction plans and building permits required for the expansion do not need city commission approval, and will instead by reviewed by the city’s planning staff.
Once the plans are approved, the company can start construction right away, according to Winter Haven planning manager, Sean Byers.
He said the city’s planning staff is currently reviewing a site plan for the new attraction area.
The theme park and resort transformed the former Cypress Gardens site into Legoland Florida in 2011, when most of its surrounding area to the east could be classified as rural land with only several car dealerships fueling economic progress.
Eric Labbe, Winter Haven’s economic opportunity and community investment director, said the theme park chose to set up shop on the eastern edge of the Polk County’s urban core with a promise to annex into the city.
“The main purpose of that was because they wanted to solidify their position in Winter Haven as a partner with the city and help to grow the community and bring a vibrant tourism aspect,” he said.
Since then, “construction and development has been through the roof,” Labbe adds. “It’s hard to gauge how much of that is a direct response to Legoland, but I’m sure it’s safe to say they were a positive contributor.”
The theme park company rebranded its park to Legoland Florida Resort in 2015 with the opening of its Legoland Hotel.
Roseboom, with Attractions Magazine, said he believes that Merlin Entertainments Group is trying to get Legoland Florida Resort to be seen widely as a multi-day destination like some of its competitors.
“In my opinion it’s not there yet,” he said. “But you can certainly spend more than one day there and the expansion is going to, of course, help that.”
Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at arabines@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-5427, or tweet me at @amanda_rabines. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.