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Holy Land Experience "saved" by Christian network

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Source: http://www.orlandosentinel.com/business/custom/tourism/orl-trinity0607jun06,0,3990005.story?track=rss


Holy Land's debts erased in Christian network deal


Mark I. Pinsky | Sentinel Staff Writer

Posted June 6, 2007










Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world's largest Christian television system, has come to the rescue of the financially troubled Holy Land Experience, a Bible-based tourist attraction near Universal Orlando.


The arrangement was more a handover than a takeover, spokesmen for both organizations said. Holy Land needed financial support and a nationwide promotional platform to remedy sagging attendance. Trinity needed land to build television-production studios for the license it recently acquired for WTGL-TV Channel 52, as well as a back lot for some of its movie production and music videos.


"Universal Studios does the same thing," said Paul Crouch Jr., son of Trinity's founder who now serves as vice president of the California-based network. "We want Holy Land to be a smaller, faith-based version of that."


In all, four members of the Crouch family, who founded and control Trinity, will join Holy Land's board of directors. They replace seven of the eight previous members. Michael Powell, the current president and chief executive officer of Holy Land, will remain on the new board.


Because Holy Land is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization, there is no stock ownership. Thus, the park passes to the Crouches by virtue of their control of the board. Trinity also is a nonprofit, tax-exempt organization.


Beginning in 2001, Holy Land was involved in a lengthy dispute with the Orange County Property Appraiser's Office over its tax-exempt status. Last June, the Legislature passed a law specifically exempting Holy Land from property taxes.


Trinity -- which owns 34 television stations in the U.S. and has nearly 400 additional stations or affiliates around the world -- reported revenue of nearly $200 million in 2005, the latest year it filed with the Internal Revenue Service. The network reaches nearly 100 million U.S. households via broadcast, cable and satellite.


Paul Crouch Jr. said in an interview Tuesday that the agreement was "a perfect marriage" of the two ministries.


The arrangement, he said, "has brought synergy to an unprecedented level."


Trinity may move soon from its rented office space at WTGL's existing studios on Michigan Street to Holy Land.


"We could roll up a [transmitting] truck and broadcast right away," he said.


Prayers answered


Since Trinity purchased Orlando's WTGL-Channel 52 last year for $50 million, Crouch said, the network has been shopping for local studio and production facilities. The Federal Communications Commission requires that broadcast-license holders produce original programming from local facilities.


For its part, Holy Land has been struggling with declining numbers of visitors since its 2001 opening, and a need for extensive -- and costly -- promotion and marketing. Both staff and operating hours have been cut back during the past two years.


"We have been praying for something like this," said Dan Hayden, Holy Land's interim director and former board member. "It's a joy for us that someone is coming in with the same passion for Jesus Christ."


What Trinity brings to the marriage, both sides emphasized Tuesday, is a nationwide and worldwide platform for promoting Holy Land.


As a result of the Trinity deal, Holy Land's operating debt has been wiped out, according to Powell and Crouch, who declined to reveal financial details of the arrangement.


"We want to take this ministry to a worldwide market," Crouch said. "We want to build studios on the site, upgrade the shows and program, and use the park as a 'back lot' for production."


Scenarios including building production studios in the existing parking lot, or on 10 additional acres across Vineland Road, with a pedestrian walkover made to look like an ancient Roman aqueduct.


"I'd love to have an aqueduct," Crouch said.


Crouch said the new board would consider whether to continue charging $35 for adults and $23 for children for a single-day, walk-up admission.


"Our immediate goal is more bodies coming through the turnstiles this summer," Crouch said.


Pentecostals welcome


The arrangement announced Tuesday represents something of a theological turnaround for Holy Land. Its founder, the Rev. Marvin Rosenthal, was a Baptist convert from Judaism. At the time Holy Land opened, he said the park would not employ Christians from the Pentecostal tradition, even as hot-dog vendors. Trinity's roots are Pentecostal, growing out of the Crouches' involvement with the Assemblies of God denomination.


Trinity has had its share of controversy, including criticism of Paul Sr. and Jan Crouch's lavish lifestyle, the network's financial dealings and the settlement of a sexual-harassment charge against Paul Sr. by a former employee in the 1990s. Trinity denied the charge but confirmed that the man had been paid $425,000 to settle the matter.


Trinity left the National Religious Broadcasters in 1991 following a yearlong ethics investigation by the trade group. Trinity is ineligible for membership in the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability, a Christian watchdog group, because family members control Trinity's boards.


The network also has been criticized for naming extended-family members to manage stations and ordaining them as ministers, which qualified them for "parsonage allowance" tax breaks.


Mark Pinsky can be reached at mpinsky@orlandosentinel.com or 407-420-5589.

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Why won't this place just close. This might just be me, but does anyone want to go to a Christian theme park while in Orlando? I don't think anyone would want to go to it even if it was in an area with no parks, and this park will finally close within five years.

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Hasn't Holy Land gone bankrupt every few years? The owners need to realize that while in Orlando, people want to be with Mickey and not god. I applaud the person that had the guts to build the park, but I'm not surprised that it is failing. The only place HL would have a remote chance of working is Salt Lake City.


Airtime-Why am I reminded of "Praiseland" from the Simpsons-&Gravity

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I think a faith based theme park is a good idea, but in Orlando? What they need to do is move somewhere without a theme park and build a nice park with a few rides at first (kind of like Celebration City,) and keep the park family oriented, and Christian-based.


Orlando just isn't the place for a park like this, there are already too many parks there, and for a park like this I don't even think it will do well under Trinity's management.

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I think they were just going for the simple fact that MILLIONS visit Orlando every year.


I guess they thought they would get their cut of the pie.


I don't see this though doing well for TBN. It's something that probably never will make money unless they add some major attractions to it.


I've been to Isarel, I don't want to pay money to go see a model when I've seen the real thing! Oh and they had a model of the Old City over there too!

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HLE I think is a great idea, but defenitly in the wrong place. If they really want to get guests to come to the park, add a roller coaster with extreme themeing (of course, it has to be incorporated with a Bible story). I just don't know how this park can still survive, it probably has like 100 visitors a week.


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^plus, who wants to learn about of all thing religion? If they did what EPCOT did with different countries, but with religion instead, then the park might work. From photos of the park I've seen, it looks nice, but I could care less when the park finally closes.

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^^ But they want people to be christian....


What they need is some real capital investments. Like maybe a dark ride about the last days of Jesus with a climactic finish of the crucifiction, or maybe a roller coaster themed to Sodom and Gommorra.

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^I could totally see a Sally darkride themed to David and Goliath. Or a Shoot the Chutes called "The Great Flood"; or a coaster called "Exodus" where you escape from Egypt, wander around for like 40 years, and then end up unloading 10 feet away. Or they should totally get a flying coaster, Jesus could fly, right? Oh, what do I care, I'd be spending all of my time at the "Water into Wine" Bar.

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^Great ideas Derek!


I agree they need SOMETHING. Anything really. Be it a 4D show, or a nice dark ride, etc. Not everything in the bible was dramatic and traumatic, there's lighter stories in there as well. There's no excuse not to have rides. I mean come on, even without roller coasters they could still have some great attractions to draw people to the park.

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I gotta say... What's the big idea opening up a christian themed park in jew central anyway?


I quote an american stand up comedian I really liked when I say:


"I don't mind giving the jews all of the middle east. As long as they give us back Florida".


I gotta say, though, I once took a look into the park's website. they have these alleged "Israeli folk dances" things? I don't think I've ever seen those costumes or those dances before.


However, over here in Israel we have a bible themed theme park(Gasp! Shocker!) That's actually doing pretty well. I have no idea how come, though, seeing as it's got ONE good ride, which is a 10 minute long shoot-the-chute, a simulator, and THATS PRETTY MUCH IT, yet park admission is $25, which is $5 more than the (relatively) GOOD amusement parks around here. And it's not even in Jerusalem or anywhere near a religious spot. it's in Eilat, which is miles away from any sort of civilization.


Behold, King's city. This one building is the entire park.


King solomon's falls.

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^You mean they still havent built that thing yet. They were talking about that back in 2003, I thought it would have been done by now. But then again, they wanted to do it based on private funds. eh.


Out of the 30 channels of cable we got at Vista Way, at least 12-15 were religious programming.

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^You mean they still havent built that thing yet. They were talking about that back in 2003, I thought it would have been done by now. But then again, they wanted to do it based on private funds. eh.


Out of the 30 channels of cable we got at Vista Way, at least 12-15 were religious programming.

The structure of the building is there, but it is, for the most part, incomplete. From a distance it looks like a finished building, but, up close you can tell that a) it's way not done and b) no one's been working on it in close to a year.

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It does look finished from I4 driving thru Altamonte, but someone told me they've been trying to finish it for years and just don't have the funding. As for Holy Land, has anyone actually been to the park? It's an interesting concept, but how well is it executed?

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