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Last year, an estimated 350 people representing specialty contractors flocked to a pre-bid meeting regarding construction of a 145-acre Legoland Florida theme park on the site of the former Cypress Gardens Adventure Park in Winter Haven, 45 miles from Orlando. The development, which will be the world's largest Legoland, is the only theme park under construction in Florida. The gaggle of contractors gathered was a sign of the nearly starved construction economy—tantamount to vultures circling.

Building Legoland, One Block at a Time
Rendering courtesy of Legoland Florida
TOY TOWN Giant, nonstructural LEGO pieces will adorn both new and renovated buildings at what is planned as the world’s largest Legoland theme park.

An aggressive, 13-month schedule made a design-build delivery system a must, says Scott Stewart, project manager for Legoland. “As soon as something is designed, we go out to bid,” he adds. Design-builder PCL Construction Services, Orlando, mobilized on-site last September. The park, themed around the plastic building-block toy, is scheduled to open in October.

Renovation of roughly 25 wood-framed buildings and the reuse of utilities and other infrastructure saved about two years of construction time compared to the time it would have taken starting from scratch, says Jackie Wallace, a Legoland Florida spokeswoman.

The development, designed by Morris Architects, Orlando, will include more than 50 “rides, shows and attractions,” according to Legoland. Of the existing rides, only a Cypress Gardens Adventure Park wooden roller coaster and two junior coasters will stay.

There have been surprises as crews have started knocking things down, especially around utilities, says Bob Hopfenberg, director of business development for PCL. One of the biggest challenges is installing myriad utilities to serve Miniland USA, a section within Legoland that will have multiple large-scale animatronic scenes—such as a downtown New York City cityscape replete with pedestrians and cars—that incorporate nonstructural LEGO pieces. Crews also have abated mold and asbestos and gotten rid of termites in some of the old buildings.

The historic Cypress Gardens, landmarked in 2003 and owned by the state of Florida, contains more than 8,000 plants from over 90 nations. To make way for the buildings and rides, Valley Crest Landscaping, Orlando, is relocating, on-site, about 670 trees, including several old-growth oak trees.

Legoland’s owner, Merlin Entertainment Group, Poole, Dorset, U.K., would not reveal the cost of the development. The state of Florida, which most recently owned the property, estimates the investment at about $300 million.