Orlando Jesusland Layoffs Mean No More Daily Scourgings, Crucifixions
The Holy Land Experience, a Jesus-oriented theme park that won a place on weird tourist attraction listicles for its daily reenactments of the torture and crucifixion of Jesus the Christ, announced this week it's laying off most of its employees. That means no more Passion Plays, no more spectacles depicting Peter bringing the Gospel to Rome, and no more educational Roman Soldier Training Camp for the kids. Romanes Eunt Domus, indeed! We aren't sure whether the big diorama of Jerusalem in Jesus Times will stay open, but maybe? The park's management says it plans to return to its original mission as a church and museum, and a diorama doesn't have a lot of moving parts.
The Tampa Bay Times reports the park is laying off darn near everyone.
On Friday, the theme park filed a layoff notice with city and state officials that it plans to eliminate 118 jobs, representing most of its employees, as of April 18. Those losing their jobs include 43 actors and musicians, plus dancers, media specialists, prop handlers, food service workers and support staff.
The layoffs didn't come as too big a surprise, since the park, owned by the Trinity Broadcasting Network, announced in January it would be ending all its theatrical productions and later said it was definitely staying open but also maybe looking for a buyer.
We bet that somewhere in heaven, TBN founders Paul and Jan Crouch are looking down from their $100,000 motorhome for dogs or their $50 million jet (it's there with them — you've heard of the spiritual plane, haven't you?) and crying at what's become of their beautiful ministry. Guess the audiences that made The Passion of the Christ a hit weren't willing to travel to see some bloody Jesus-whipping.
Photo: David Joyce, 2007. Creative Commons license 2.0
And what a history! You got your Jews for Jesus, your grifty televangelists, and your hubristic hubris, all with a main building that looked like the Roman Coliseum just off Interstate 4. The Orlando Weekly provides the flashback, but you'll have to make your own time-travelly sound effects yourself.
First opened in 2001 by Messianic Jewish organization Zion's Hope, the Holy Land Experience suffered a number of early setbacks. As debts mounted and attendance declined, the park struggled to stay relevant.
In 2002, Robert Van Kampen moved his private collection of Christian antiquities to the park in a custom-built exhibit known as The Scriptorium: Center for Biblical Antiquities. Van Kampen was an earlier support of the park, donating more than a million dollars to project. Housing one of the largest collections of antique Bibles, Biblical manuscripts, and Judeo-Christian artifacts, The Scriptorium remains one of the most popular exhibits at the park. The Scriptorium and its collection will continue to remain open at the Holy Land Experience.
By 2005, it was reporting a deficit of over $2 million. That same year, the founder of Zion's Hope, Marvin Rosenthal, stepped down from the board and Zion's Hope severed all ties to the attraction.
Not even an intervention by then-Gov. Jeb! Bush was enough to keep the attraction afloat. If the park agreed to waive its usual $30-$50 admission fee one day a year, it would qualify for a nice tax break!
After a lobbying effort that initially set the park back by an estimated $10,000 to $30,000, it saw a small victory in 2006, when Florida Governor Jeb Bush signed a law in place that granted it, and other nonprofits that display biblical manuscripts or stage scenes from the Bible, from property-tax saving the attraction more than $1 million in taxes. The exemption wasn't enough, and by the following year, the attraction was facing $8 million in debt when Trinity Broadcasting Network, the world's largest Christian broadcaster, agreed to take over the debt as part of estimated $37 million deal [.]
For what it's worth, other estimates of the taxpayer subsidies through that property tax exemption go as high as $2.2 million dollars since 2006, but we are not going down any rabbit holes to look at why.
Since then, it's been a medley of layoffs and various attempts to attract more visitors, but not even the 2015 opening of the "Trin-i-Tee" mini golf course, with obstacles like Jonah's whale, the Wall of Jericho, and yes, another Crucifixion scene (we don't want to know where the hole was) could bring in enough revenue.
So now, you'll have to go elsewhere if you want to take a photo with a "cutout of Jesus set in water that made it look like the guest was walking on water." Jesus may offer eternal life, but theme parks are transitory, even the ones that have been the subject of hilarious reviews in Vanity Fair. But at least the collection of Bibles and other artifacts will remain. As will, we assume, the Gift Shop. Enjoy the website while it's still up!
Now, when's the liquidation sale? We want to get our hands on that mini-golf crucifixion.
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