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The 'Holy Land Experience' Could Be Replaced By Apartments Or A Strip Mall

Operators of the Holy Land Experience theme park had bet that during visits to Orlando, tourists would want to ride Space Mountain and see Jesus and Mary. But some parts of the attraction shut down earlier this year, sparking predictions it would close entirely.

Now, 118 employees have been warned they will be laid off April 18. Owners have been exploring a sale of the 15-acre property, valued at $20.2M.

A nativity scene near the entrance to Orlando's Holy Land Experience.

The theme park opened in 2001, an idea from Marvin Rosenthal, who was born to Jewish parents but eventually became a Baptist minister. He conceived it as "a living biblical museum" and designed it to replicate key religious sites in Jerusalem. But it always struggled financially.

Christian TV company Trinity Broadcasting Network bought the park in 2007 for $37M, but its main supporter, TBN founder Jan Crouch, died in 2016. Stage shows were halted in January and the property owners hired a real estate broker, the Orlando Weekly reported. The Crouches' granddaughter said the family had received offers to develop the site into a strip mall.

Noah's Ark at the Holy Land Experience in Orlando.

Chuck Whittall of Unicorp Development, developer of the retail and entertainment complex Icon Park, told a local TV station that his company had been approached about buying the site and could potentially build a mixed-use development with apartments and retail.

The Holy Land Experience's ticket sales — admission was $50 per adult — plunged from $9.4M in 2013 to $5.5M five years later, the Orlando Sentinel reported, while contributions likewise dropped from $42.7M in 2010 to $384K in 2016. The theme park struggled financially despite a 2006 bill in which the Florida state legislature agreed to treat the property like a church and exempt it from paying $5.8M in property taxes. 

The actor who played Jesus at the park told the Sentinel that now, “We will follow the almighty dollar rather than the almighty.”