Blockbuster, The Park?

Visitors driving along I-75 as it crosses 2,600 acres of scrubby marshland southwest of Fort Lauderdale sometimes spot alligators, egrets, and other Florida fauna. But if H. Wayne Huizenga has his way, folks will someday stop to watch Marlins, Panthers--maybe even Dolphins--and pay Blockbuster Entertainment Corp. big bucks for the pleasure.

Huizenga is planning a huge sports-and-entertainment complex dubbed Blockbuster Park. The project, which could cost a total of $1 billion in public and private investment, would be anchored by a hockey arena on one end and a baseball stadium on the other--new homes to Huizenga's Florida Panthers and Florida Marlins hockey and baseball teams. Linking them would be an "entertainment village" featuring restaurants, shops, a film-and-television production studio, and a theme park.

On Jan. 28, Blockbuster will start the long process of dickering with regional officials about conditions for approvals for the project. If it comes off, the park will become another element in Huizenga's effort to transform Blockbuster from a video retailer into an entertainment conglomerate. It would fit in nicely with the company's impending merger with Viacom Inc., especially if Viacom succeeds in taking over Paramount Communications Inc., which owns five regional theme parks. That's what Huizenga calls synergy.

And just six miles east of Blockbuster Park sits another potential synergy--Joe Robbie Stadium and the Miami Dolphins football team. Huizenga, who bought 15% of the Dolphins and half of the stadium in 1990, announced on Jan. 24 that he wants to buy the remainder of the team from the Robbie family in a deal that values the National Football League franchise at $138 million. He also signed an option to buy the Robbies' 50% interest in the stadium, where his Marlins now play.

Huizenga says the timing on his Dolphins purchase is coincidental. But the deal, if approved by other NFL team owners, dovetails with his Florida empire. Huizenga believes the region's 3 million Marlins fans, plus millions of Panther and Dolphins fans in close proximity, will provide a year-round base of attendance for Blockbuster Park's other facilities. "What do you think of in a sports team? I think of [it as] software," Huizenga says.

FRIENDS AND FOES. Still, the park has plenty of hurdles to clear. Environmental concerns, for one. "It's very close to the Everglades," says Richard Grosso, legal director for 1000 Friends of Florida, an environmental organization. The location raises fears that overdevelopment could damage the wetlands' delicate ecology. And exactly how the project will be financed--and whether it will get special tax breaks--is also unclear.

There's opposition, too, to Huizenga's NFL bid. The NFL prohibits majority team owners from holding other professional sports franchises. Huizenga is seeking a temporary exemption until owners vote on the issue on Mar. 20. Some owners support Huizenga, but others, such as Buffalo Bills owner Ralph C. Wilson Jr., are opposed--even to a temporary change. "I don't think any exemption should be granted for expediency purposes," Wilson says.

The NFL is a clubby organization that doesn't change its ways easily. But

Huizenga usually manages to get what he wants--even if he has to overcome an Old Boys' network and a marshland full of environmentalists.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.