For 27 years, Jacksonville Beach’s Adventure Landing has been one of the most popular attractions for kids and their families anywhere on the First Coast, but current plans for the property will shutter the park in the near future. The Jaxson’s Bill Delaney and photographer Erik Hamilton stopped by to take one last look.
The adventure begins
Adventure Landing came onto the scene in 1995, the brainchild of Hank and Susan Woodburn. Since 1971, Hank Woodburn had worked for miniature golf business Putt-Putt, where he specialized in updating aging venues, adding new features and attractions to keep things fresh. In 1994, Putt-Putt sent the Woodburns to Jacksonville so that Hank could work his magic on the city’s two aging locations on Beach Boulevard and Blanding Boulevard. Woodburn overhauled both parks with then cutting-edge features like arcades, go-karts and batting cages, giving the two locations stronger prospects for attracting customers than miniature golf alone. The Woodburns then set their sights higher: creating the biggest amusement park in the First Coast.
So later that same year, the Woodburns acquired a stretch of undeveloped land on Beach Boulevard in Jacksonville Beach for their new project. Jacksonville Beach was no stranger to amusement parks; from the early 20th century into the 1970s, the town’s beachfront boardwalk was packed with carnival entertainment including Ferris wheels, bumper cars, bowling, games and even a roller coaster. Age and the draw of larger, well-funded theme parks farther south brought a tragic end to Jacksonville Beach’s old boardwalk and many others like it across the country. Nonetheless, with Jacksonville’s growing quickly and the Beaches communities’ continuing to draw thousands of tourists and day-trippers each week, the opportunity was there for what the Woodburns envisioned.
Adventure Landing opened on Beach Boulevard in 1995 with its distinctive pirate theme. It also boasted what was by far the region’s most expansive laser tag range. Memorably, the facility included a cafe where visitors could listen to ’90s pop hits as sung by animatronic animals, refugees from some local iteration of the Rock-afire Explosion, the robotic band from the defunct ShowBiz Pizza Place chain.
As if go-karts and weird singing robots weren’t enough, Adventure Landing also brought something Jaxsons previously had to drive over an hour for: a water park. The original Adventure Landing water park was relatively small, as such parks go, comprising a few slides, a lazy river called the The Lil’ St. Johns and a wave pool. Still, it spared local families the indignity of driving to Orlando or Georgia to hit up water slides.
Over the years, Adventure Landing maintained its popularity by upgrading its facilities. Hank Woodburn brought his experience turning Putt-Putts around to bear in keeping Adventure Landing up to date. The arcade brought in new games and attractions and the water park underwent several substantial renovations to add slides and other features. This allowed the Jacksonville Beach location to draw in more than 5 million guests over the years and enabled the Woodburns to expand the business. Two more Adventure Landing locations opened in the Jacksonville area, on Blanding Boulevard in the Westside and on State Road 16 in St. Augustine. At one time the chain had 18 parks in several states, with the Jacksonville Beach park serving as the flagship.
Good business meets bad luck
Unfortunately, the drive to keep the parks updated and competitive contributed to a reversal of fortune for Adventure Landing. While Adventure Holdings owned the parks and attractions themselves, in most cases they leased the land from a different company, National Retail Properties. In 2018, Adventure Holdings undertook a massive renovation to the Jacksonville Beach park, which they originally hoped to pay for out of the chain’s revenues. However, through that year, bad weather, including Hurricane Michael, caused a sharp drop in attendance across the parks.
With park revenues down, the company was forced to seek relief through merchant cash advances with sometimes onerous rates. When the situation threatened to cause the company to default on its leases with National Retail Properties, Adventure Holdings filed Chapter 11 bankruptcy to restructure its debt in November 2019. Expecting decent revenues in the spring and summer of 2020, both operator and landlord agreed to keep Adventure Landing going another year.
Sadly, it was not to be. The COVID-19 pandemic derailed hopes for a strong spring and summer season. National Retail Properties moved to sell the Jacksonville Beach and Blanding Boulevard properties. Trevato Development Group purchased the Jacksonville Beach property with the intention of demolishing the amusement park and replacing it with an apartment complex, though the park has stayed open until those plans solidify. The Blanding Boulevard park closed permanently in July 2021, while the St. Augustine location and most others continued operations as normal.
Initially, it was expected that the Jacksonville Beach Adventure Landing would follow its Westside sister into oblivion by October 2021, but due to delays in the plans, the developer allowed it to remain open into the fall of 2022. This week, the City of Jacksonville Beach approved Trevato’s plans for the flagship Adventure Landing, a significant step forward. Barring some massive change of plans, the durable amusement park is operating on borrowed time and expects to close by the end of the year.
Hank Woodburn has expressed optimism about opening another park in a different location – Adventure Holdings still owns the slides and equipment. Hopefully that comes together, but in the nearer term, the closure of Adventure Landing is a blow to families throughout the Jacksonville area. Jacksonville and most of the country have seen a decline in spaces specifically designed for kids and teenagers, and the loss of Adventure Landing means the loss of yet another of those places. But for now, there’s still time to hit up the park one last time. Enjoy it while it lasts.