by Laura Schoenfelder
The Holy Land Experience theme park in Florida officially closed on August 2, 2021, after 20 years of operation. For those who have never heard of it, the Holy Land Experience was intended to be a family entertainment experience for Christians in competition with Walt Disney World. The 15-acre park’s attractions included a reenactment of the resurrection, a scale model of Jerusalem, theatrical productions of Bible stories, an animatronic John Wycliffe, and a miniature golf course. Despite the attention and controversy the park faced throughout its years of operation, the theme park could not draw a consistent audience. After struggling financially for years, the Holy Land Experience was finally sold to a Seventh-day Adventist health care company.
Marvin Rosenthal, a Jewish convert and Baptist minister, was the creator of this replication of the Holy Land. His early idea of the park was to bring in visitors who could go beyond reading the Bible but experience it as well. While the United States was not unfamiliar with Holy Land recreations from the ’50s,’60s, and ’70s, Rosenthal’s park was the first one built in the 21st century.
Some of the financial problems the theme park first faced were issues over taxes. As a theme park, the Holy Land Experience was required to pay taxes, but Rosenthal argued that the park was a religious nonprofit and should be tax-exempt. A conclusion was reached where the Holy Land Experience was required to waive admission at least one day a year to receive a tax break. However, that was not enough to help the financially struggling theme park break even with costs. To keep afloat, the park required regular donations from investors, yet by 2007, the Holy Land Experience had racked up $8 million in debt.
The theme park was sold in 2007 to Paul and Jan Crouch who planned to use it as a studio for their broadcasting network where they cut expenses to aid the park financially and added new attractions, which initially increased the number of visitors by 25 percent. Despite multiple years of the broadcasting network providing money for the park, ticket sales started to decline. Never able to get an upper hand financially or have successful attendance, the Holy Land Experience could never reach Rosenthal’s original vision for the park. The Biblical twist on family entertainment was not enough to draw success in the theme park world.