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Blockbuster Chief Plans South Florida Theme Park

Some are opposed to proposal; others call it `extraordinary'

THE sports and entertainment theme park that H. Wayne Huizenga wants to build in south Florida promises to be huge.

So huge that a public relations man declares: ``It will be like nothing you've seen in America. The largest private-sector project ever committed.... The potential benefits are awesome.''

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Mr. Huizenga owns - with others - three big sports teams: the Miami Dolphins (football), Florida Panthers (ice hockey), and Florida Marlins (baseball); three chains of music stores; two Hollywood film studios; and a joint venture with Virgin Megastores.

His crown jewel is Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation - a Ft. Lauderdale-based video chain store he acquired and, in six years, turned into the world's largest video-rental chain boasting more than 3,600 stores and sales of $2.2 billion.

Earlier this year, Blockbuster entered into an agreement to merge with Viacom, the film and television company, but had since been delaying because Viacom's stock fell. Both sides have until Sept. 30 to make up their minds. On Tuesday, Blockbuster's board of directors approved the deal.

The new theme park Huizenga is planning is called Blockbuster Park (nicknamed Wayne's World); it was conceived to bring together all of Huizenga's interests.

The park is expected to offer several sports stadiums, TV and film studios, golf courses, restaurants, shops, hotels, a marine park, and a virtual-reality center.

The 2,500-acre facility will sit astride the Dade and Broward County border and reach into the city of Miramar, which is close to Ft. Lauderdale. To make it happen, the owners chose a self-governing district so they could impose their own taxes and make some of the rules.

The Florida State Legislature approved the self-governing district on April 8, on the condition that the two counties and city the park will stretch into agree to it.

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Dade and Broward Counties approved the project July 12 and 13. Last week, the Miramar City Council also gave the green light. The three jurisdictions were swayed by Blockbuster Park's promise: 16,000 new jobs; more than $64 million in tax revenues; 25 percent of the project's concessions and bond financing guaranteed for minority participation; and an incentive to getting tourists - who often fly into Miami and head straight for Walt Disney World further north in Orlando - to spend their money in south Florida.

In early June, the South Florida Business Journal wrote: ``Huizenga's vision for the park is extraordinary.''

But not everyone is thrilled about the prospect of a concrete, asphalt, and steel jungle sitting on the edge of the pristine, one-of-a-kind nationally protected river of grass known as the Everglades.

Environmentalists say Huizenga is about to pave over a good portion of south Florida's aquifer - the area's source of drinking water - and to send rainwater into the ocean.

Others just don't want the park in their back yard because of the traffic and congestion it would likely bring.

Larry Marvet, a vice chairman of the Broward County Sierra Club, insists that public officials are being misled by Blockbuster Park's promises.

``They [Huizenga and the people working with him] are getting it all with little more than talk and a few pretty pictures,'' he says.

The park will cost more than $1 billion to build and up to 10 years to complete. The owners are demanding that the federal and state governments pitch in money for new roads and other infrastructure in the area.

Blockbuster Park is expected to finish drawing up a master plan by the end of September; soon after, an 18-month permit-application process will begin.

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