Fla. tycoon plans park to rival Disney World

April 04, 1994|By New York Times News Service

MIRAMAR, FLA — MIRAMAR, Fla. -- Wayne Huizenga has a vision.

Where others see merely 2,500 acres of wetlands, quarries and canals here on the eastern fringe of the Everglades midway between Miami and Fort Lauderdale, he imagines the biggest new tourist attraction to arise in Florida since Disney World, a gleaming $1 billion sports and entertainment complex he calls Blockbuster Park.

Within five years, Mr. Huizenga plans to build a 45,000-seat domed stadium and an indoor sports and concert arena to house the major league baseball and hockey teams he owns.

He has spent more than $30 million acquiring land -- pocket change for a tycoon whose empire includes Blockbuster Video, the nation's largest movie rental chain, three of Miami's four professional sports franchises, and other media and entertainment properties.

Eventually, "Wayne's World," as the project is widely known, will also have a theme park and entertainment village, movie, television and recording studios, office buildings, and hotels, restaurants and retail shops, assuming Mr. Huizenga can vanquish the opponents who argue that his plan will destroy the environment and drain away tax dollars.

There are also plans for both a virtual-reality amusement center and more traditional forms of leisure, like a golf course and an aquatic park. But even that does not satisfy South Florida's most powerful businessman, whose fortune is estimated to be at least $700 million.

Tantalizing local politicians with promises of thousands of jobs, millions of visitors and hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenues, he is seeking the power to run Blockbuster Park as a special district, a self-contained entity with authority to issue bonds, condemn and zone land, collect its own 5 percent sales tax and maintain its own security force.

"He's building an absolute sports and entertainment juggernaut, the likes of which we've never seen before," said Charles Euchner, author of "Playing the Field," a book exploring the politics of the sports business.

"When he gets this thing completely put together, so that all the various pieces are reinforcing each other, he's going to be in an ideal position to become one of the leading marketers of sports and entertainment in all of the Americas."

It is precisely that prospect, though, that worries many people.

This is a region whose character was defined by ruthless rogue capitalists like Henry Flagler, who built the railroad early in the century that touched off the modern development of Florida, and Barron Collier, the New York advertising genius who became the biggest owner and salesman of land in Florida. With this %J background here, suspicion of Mr. Huizenga and his intentions and motives runs deep.

But others in South Florida are eager to embrace Blockbuster Park. They are fired by the conviction that if politicians had been more flexible 25 years ago when Walt Disney Co. was looking for a place to build a theme park in Florida, Disney World would have been built in Miami, not Orlando,

Having missed one chance at the brass ring, public officials and the business establishment seem determined not to miss out again.

Mr. Huizenga, (pronounced HIGH-zeen-ga), 56, moved to Fort Lauderdale from Chicago 40 years ago and built his fortune by hauling garbage, parlaying a single truck into Waste Management Inc., the largest trash collection company in the UnitedStates.

Bored with that, he bought Blockbuster Video in 1987 and, with )) the enormous profits from that venture, acquired the Sound Warehouse and Music Plus record stores and the Republic Pictures and Spelling Entertainment movie and television production companies.

Mr. Huizenga either owns all or a large stake in all of these companies. Though immersed in the details of the operations, he leaves the day-to-day management to others.

Through Huizenga Holdings, his main company, and his other businesses, Mr. Huizenga also owns the Florida Marlins baseball team and the Florida Panthers hockey team, as well as 50 percent of Joe Robbie Stadium, the home of the Marlins and the Miami Dolphins football team.

On March 23, the National Football League tentatively approved Mr. Huizenga's purchase of the Dolphins for an estimated $138 million, making him the only man to own franchises in three sports.

Mr. Huizenga's power has also been enhanced by the role he played in the recent Paramount-Viacom merger, which is still awaiting formal approval. After coming to the rescue of Viacom executives with a $600 million investment at a crucial moment in the bidding war for Paramount, he agreed in January to merge Blockbuster with Viacom.

If both deals go through, he would become vice chairman of the new conglomerate, putting himself in a position to succeed Viacom's chief executive, Sumner Redstone, 70.

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