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City Wants Land Back: Butterfly Experience In Buena Park Mired In Legal Dispute

A highly anticipated Central American rainforest-themed attraction that could have anchored Buena Park’s growing Beach Boulevard entertainment zone is mired in a legal dispute. 

The city of Buena Park has sued Rubin Stahl, owner of Butterfly Pavillion LLC, for misrepresentation and is seeking to buy back the 9 acres at 7711 Beach Blvd. that the city sold to the developer in 2015 to create a tourist attraction.

Rendering of the Butterfly Palladium in Buena Park

On the former Movieland Wax Museum site, the $40M Butterfly Palladium project was designed to be a 56K SF immersive experience that includes exotic butterflies, hummingbirds, a rainforest atrium and a jellyfish aquarium. The center would also include additional wildlife, a movie theater, a café and retail. 

The city claims Stahl "misrepresented its experience and financing and failed to meet construction deadlines," according to the Orange County Register.

Christopher Cardinale, an attorney representing the city, told the Register the city provided the developer opportunities to live up to its deal but the developer "has completely failed to do so.”

An attorney for the developer, John Bowerbank, told Bisnow his client has tried to work with the city and has asked to extend the construction deadlines to build the tourist attraction. He called the city's lawsuit frivolous.

"By denying the extension to complete the project, and filing a frivolous lawsuit to force a repurchase of the property even though the city has no right to repurchase the property, the city has attempted a thinly veiled regulatory taking that amounts to nothing more than a malicious attempt at a land grab," Bowerbank, a partner with Garcia Rainey Blank & Bowerbank, said in an emailed statement.

The city sold the land on Beach Boulevard to Stahl for $2.5M. Stahl had previously developed a popular butterfly attraction in Arizona.

City officials previously touted the project as another tourist attraction in the growing Beach Boulevard entertainment district that includes Knott’s Berry Farm theme park, Knott’s Soak City water park, Medieval Times, Pirates Dinner Theatre and a Rock & Brews restaurant.

But the project, which broke ground last year, faced several financial setbacks and delays, the city claims. The Butterfly Palladium was slated to be completed this spring. 

Bowerbank said his client's goal is still to continue working with the city to get the butterfly attraction off the ground and built. 

"The city's decision to file suit against us is extremely disappointing," Stahl said in a statement provided by his attorney. "When we started the project, the city of Buena Park was 100% behind us ... but now they've had an unfortunate change of heart and the time and money we've invested in this project for the community is in jeopardy. It's not right, it's unfair, and frankly it's unconscionable. We aren't going to let the city of Buena Park rob people of experiencing our vision. We're not going away."