Friday, May 30, 2014

Florida Splendid China

Amongst the chaos and sensationalism of Orlando's theme parks, the People's Republic of China thought it would be a great idea to get in on the action and open one of their own. And with what theme? Why, Chinese history, of course. What could possibly go wrong?

They partnered up with a Taiwanese couple who issued some odd statements about how much they detest the Chinese government, even as they were going into business with them. In 1993 Splendid China opened in the Orlando suburb of Citrus Ridge, with lots of fanfare and very few customers. (A bit confusingly, it was often called "Florida Splendid China" in the park's own brochures, to unnecessarily differentiate it from a similar park in Shenzen.) They spent lavishly on every detail except for perhaps the most crucial one of all - pre-market focus-group testing. #100 Million were poured into this park which consisted mainly of 76 acres of land peppered with miniature replicas of historically important Chinese buildings.

And that's it. No rides, no water slide, no laser shows or explosions. Even a newspaper article in the Lakeland Ledger, trying to give the park some good advance PR, stated that kids might find it boring. As word got around, it seems everyone was finding it boring. On a great day, the place got about 400 visitors (compared to the tens of thousands of hordes standing in line for other Orlando attractions) and on a bad day, well, nobody came at all.

According to Lost Parks:

Although all of the miniatures were meticulously done, some were more effective than others. The Yurts of Mongolia, for example, were on so small a scale compared to the surrounding grass that they appeared like nothing so much as upended dog bowls. It only took a few years for a few of the scenes to begin showing cracks and other wear, with some of the small figurines that populated them broken or missing entirely.

They tried to jazz it up a bit by bringing acrobats from China to perform, but that backfired when the acrobats kept running away from their handlers and seeking political asylum in America. Towards the end of the park's run, they started hiring local acrobats instead of risking any more defections. A well-meaning but embarassingly crank-sounding group calling themselves "Citizens Against Communist Chinese Propaganda" began staging nonstop protests outside the place, and you could hear their angry chanting while you were trying to have a peaceful visit. Soon Florida school boards were voting to ban field trips to the site, and clearly the writing was on the wall.

On December 30, 2003, the park's website announced it was closing, and blamed "the continued downturn in the tourism economy" rather than the obvious fact that there just aren't enough people who want to pay twenty bucks to stand in the hot sun and look at a 1/8 scale replica of the Leshan Grand Buddha Statue.

It didn't take long for the place to fall into ruin, hastened by constant vandalism. After sitting vacant for a decade, they finally started tearing it all down last year.

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