Butterflies no closer to fluttering at planned Buena Park attraction
Spring has come to Orange County, but instead of a rainforest attraction with a butterfly filled atrium planned for Buena Park, a legal dispute has sprung up between the city and the venue’s developer.
The city is suing the Butterfly Palladium’s developer, alleging it misrepresented its experience and financing and failed to meet construction deadlines. The city says in the lawsuit it is entitled to buy back the Beach Boulevard property for the original sale price, and it asks the court to award damages and require that the property be better maintained.
An attorney for the developer, John Bowerbank, said in a statement that the city’s suit represents “a malicious attempt at a land grab” and aims to force developer Rubin Stahl to abandon the project.
The city referred calls to outside attorney Christopher Cardinale, who said in an emailed statement that the city has “provided the developer every opportunity to perform its agreement with the city, but unfortunately it has completely failed to do so.”
City officials have a great interest in seeing something built on the 8.5-acre site – the former home of the Movieland Wax Museum – because of its prominent location in the entertainment corridor, across the street from Medieval Times and half a mile from Knott’s Berry Farm.
They encouraged Stahl to create a project in their city after learning about Butterfly Wonderland, a similar attraction he worked on in Scottsdale, Ariz. A development agreement was drafted and signed in 2016, and Stahl bought the city-owned land.
The project was envisioned as a 56,000-square-foot facility featuring a rainforest habitat, jellyfish aquarium, butterfly exhibit, movie theater and cafe.
Construction began, but instead of progressing toward a fall 2018 wrap up, it had slowed to a crawl by early last year and the property suffered trespassing and illegal dumping, the city’s lawsuit says.
The suit alleges the developer gave Buena Park numerous assurances it had financing for the $40 million project, including prospective celebrity investors such as actress Charlize Theron. But none of the proposed financing deals ever became a reality, the city said.
In March, the city sought to buy back the property for the $2.45 million the developer had paid for its purchase, but Stahl’s representatives told city officials the land would now cost at least $22 million, including money already spent on the project, the city’s lawsuit said. The developer has said more than $15 million has gone into the palladium.
The parties disagree on whether the city retains buyback rights.
In his statement, Bowerbank said the “expected hurdles” with the project can still be overcome, and that the city improperly denied the developer’s January request for an extension of the construction deadline.
Stahl called the lawsuit “disappointing” in a statement.
“When we started the project, the city of Buena Park was 100 percent behind us and even encouraged us to build this very unique and beautiful center for Southern California locals and visitors to frequent and enjoy with their families,” he said. “But now they’ve had an unfortunate change of heart and the time and money we’ve invested in this project for the community is in jeopardy.”
Reached Monday, April 15, Bowerbank said, “They claim they want this project completed, and now the city’s the one halting the project.”
He added that Stahl remains willing to work with the city and intends to complete the butterfly pavilion.