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Christian Theme Park’s Founder Quits

Associated Press, via, USA
July 22, 2005 • Friday July 22, 2005

Holy Land Experience board cites business concerns for move.

ORLANDO — The founder of the Holy Land Experience has quit after a dispute with the Christian theme park’s board and plans to start a new ministry.

The Rev. Marvin Rosenthal, a Baptist minister, cleaned out his office Wednesday.

“We just had a difference of opinion, the board and I,” said Rosenthal, who wouldn’t elaborate.

Rosenthal said he will continue to serve on the board that runs the attraction through the end of the year.

Scott Pierre, chairman of the nonprofit Zion’s Hope Inc. board that runs Holy Land, insisted the parting was amicable. He said a unanimous board and Rosenthal agreed the park needed to be guided with a stronger business eye after running over budget each year since it opened in February 2001.

“Marv’s strength really was in the ministerial arena,” he said.

Pierre also emphasized that the search for a more business-savvy executive didn’t mean Holy Land would stop being a ministry. He said it was simply intended to keep the nonprofit business component of the ministry from running in the red.

Holy Land, a 15-acre attraction, opened in 2001 with a collection of scenes from the Bible: recreations of Jerusalem, Herod’s Temple and courtyard, a street market with artisans’ workshops, a Bedouin tent and the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

In 2002, the attraction added a Scriptorium with one of the world’s top collections of religious artifacts, ranging from Babylonian clay tablets to ancient Bibles, on loan from a private collection.

The park employs about 200 people, and Pierre said he did not anticipate any “major” changes in employment, management or operations. The attraction’s admissions have been relatively flat at about 250,000 a year, and the business has struggled, at least from an operating standpoint, according to regulatory filings.

Orange County has been trying to collect property taxes on the attraction, but a Circuit Court judge recently issued a summary judgment favoring Holy Land, contending that the county failed to show why a religious exemption should not be granted.

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