Polk County has extended a marketing deal with Legoland for another five years.
The agreement with Legoland owner Merlin Entertainment LLC, unanimously approved by the commission on Jan. 3, stipulates that the county pitch in $375,000 a year over the next five years — a total of $1.8 million — to help the Winter Haven theme park pay for advertising materials across the globe.
The county will also pay an additional one-time expense of $99,500 for a new visitor station at the park’s entrance.
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The county will use money from its tourism fund — a segment of the budget that includes bed-tax revenue — to contribute its share of the marketing arrangement.
“The bed tax money is to be used to address tourism, so this seems like an appropriate use of those funds,” Commissioner Neil Combee said at the meeting,
Legoland, which opened in 2012, attracts 1.5 million visitors annually and generates an estimated $1.5 million a year in tourism tax revenue, which is collected by hotels. The county also collects millions in sales tax from the park and its three hotels.
The marketing deal represents “a great investment” for Polk County, Mark Jackson, the county’s director of tourism and sports marketing, told the commission ahead of the vote.
“It’s not just necessary, it’s critical to the health of our county’s largest economic engine, tourism/sports,” he said in an email to The Ledger. “Our marketing partnership, and most importantly our relationship with LLF, keeps this massive economic engine moving forward.”
Previously:Legoland announces Peppa Pig Theme Park opening
The overall economic impact of Legoland on Polk County is not known, but Jackson estimates that it’s more than a half-billion dollars annually.
Before Legoland arrived in Polk County, several counties were in a heated contest to secure the theme park.
Polk’s effort to win the competition included the marketing agreement, which originally was $350,000 every 10 years.
At the time, Polk’s tourism economy was in dire need of a boost. Cypress Gardens closed in 2003.
The Kansas City Royals, which had been operating out of Davenport at Boardwalk and Baseball, left for Arizona. Anheuser-Busch soon thereafter closed Boardwalk and Baseball, which Jackson said was a huge draw for the county. And then Grenelefe Resort, a Japan-owned property with more than 1,200 rooms, also closed. Finally, the Cleveland Guardians, formerly called the Cleveland Indians, left for Arizona, depressing the county’s sports tourism market.
Before Legoland, “It was simply the toughest and most challenging time in Polk County’s tourism history,” Jackson said.
The newest iteration of the marketing agreement calls for the county to help pay for a new visitor center at the park’s entrance, designed to capture foot traffic from Legoland’s three hotels.
The venue will promote tourism throughout the county. The goal is to keep Legoland guests in Polk County.
Research shows that guests are more likely to spend in Polk County when they interact with a visitor services staff member. Each time this happens, a guest spends an additional $78 in the county, according to research conducted by Tampa-based Downs St Germain Research.
“This is very important,” Jackson said. “As one of our main objectives is to prevent economic leakages to other counties by keeping LLF guests spending time and money in Polk County.
Dustin Wyatt covers Polk County government and county-wide issues. He can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @LLDustin_Wyatt.