‘Peace Palace’ planned for tourist strip

Meditate on this bit of Kissimmee karma. Vedaland, the mystical theme park that turned into an Osceola Never Never Land back in 1996, has been reincarnated — sort of.

There are no illusions, and plans call for something on a much smaller scale than what Indian spiritual leader Maharishi Mahesh Yogi and magician Doug Henning conjured up in 1989.

A portion of 458 acres owned here is planned for one of 3,000 “Peace Palaces” to be built in major cities around the world. The first such facility, costing $4 million, opened in Lexington, Ky., in April. Similar palaces to spread peace through Transcendental Meditation also exist in Bethesda, Md., and Fairfield, Iowa, with others in various stages of development, said Bill Sands, who is guiding the project in the heart of Osceola’s tourist corridor.

County commissioners gave the original development new life last year, as approvals for the project were set to expire. The developers now have until the end of April to build something that generates 766 trips a day. No trips and the development order expires.

I smell another request for an extension. It’s nothing new for this project.

So you don’t remember Vedaland? Well, many of us weren’t around back then. A student of the Maharishi’s Transcendental Meditation, Henning gave up his illusions to focus on the theme-park project but died of cancer in February 2000. The idea went with him. The property that was once a plant farm has remained a swatch of green foliage and wetlands that runs for nearly three-quarters of a mile along U.S. Highway 192.

Those wetlands pose a problem for developers who would want their enterprise to get the exposure offered by U.S. 192. The Reedy Creek Swamp and a private mitigation bank are also behind the property.

But that doesn’t mean the land isn’t valuable. Near a proposed county convention center, the site east of Disney’s Celebration community was on the market for $60 million a few years ago. Not bad, considering it was purchased for $20 million cash in 1990.

It sits across from the “Big Orange,” with a Cracker Barrel restaurant on one side and a Holiday Inn on the other. Sands said the property is off the market, though there still are signs from a real-estate company on the site. Who knows? If someone made the right offer . . .

Its destiny is tied to its geography. It is one of the few large undeveloped tracts in the tourism strip between Interstate 4 and Kissimmee. Xentury City and Osceola Trace are other large chunks. Smaller parcels from two to 28 acres are also for sale. But 458 relatively virgin acres is a rarity there.

Sands said the owners are not investors looking to make a profit.

“We need peace and harmony more than we need a business project,” he said.

Vedaland — or “Levitation World” or “Magic World” as some nicknamed it — seems unlikely in 2003. Without completion of phase one in April, the developer could lose a key planning designation that originally gave state, regional and local agencies the opportunity to evaluate the project.

Something has to happen after all these years. But there are skeptics.

County planning officials say an owner’s representative recently broached the possibility of a “shrine” and visitor center on a portion of the property. But no plans have been submitted, and it’s doubtful if it would generate enough traffic to keep the development approvals active. Build-out is scheduled for 2005, but more extensions could be requested. It could be a race against time.

“Money is definitely not a problem,” said Sands, a faculty member of the Maharishi School of Management in Fairfield. Sands said the group hopes to have the 12,000- to 15,000-square-foot facility open by the beginning of next year. The center will be designed using principles of “Vedic” architecture and will have fountains and inspire tranquillity — in the busy and gaudy corridor.

With Central Florida’s millions of visitors, the facility also will serve as a welcome center for the curious.

From 100 to 200 people will practice “yogi flying” daily. The form of TM — at a higher level of consciousness — strives to bring coherence, harmony and peace to the world.

Before its vanishing act, the Kissimmee Vedaland was to be one of several theme parks designed by Henning and Maharishi, who gained global fame with TM and as the Beatles’ spiritual adviser.

Park features included a building seemingly suspended above water without supports and a “magic flying chariot” that took riders inside the molecular structure of a rose. Full development was projected at $1 billion.

Karma took another path. Instead of “now you see it, now you don’t,” it was a case of no one ever seeing anything. The whole project turned out to be make-believe. Now, there are those who say the market won’t support any new tourist attractions along U.S. 192.

Of course, there are those who aren’t fans of the Maharishi or his teachings, which some claim is a money-making enterprise and a cult. But I’m not going there today.

Oddly enough, there is a Vedaland of sorts in Iowa. Maharishi Vedic City was incorporated in 2001.

Residents diligently work for world peace in a place where corn and soybeans once sprouted. Every resident practices Transcendental Meditation for inner serenity and “unbounded awareness,” according to the Chicago Tribune, a sister paper of the Sentinel. Earlier this year, the City Council banned the sale of nonorganic food. That would never fly in Mickey City — or Kissimmee.

While Vedaland never materialized here, it’s likely that something will appear in the future. What remains to be seen. Just consider it Kissimmee karma.


(Listed if other than Religion News Blog, or if not shown above)
Orlando Sentinel, USA
Sep. 7, 2003
Mark Pino, Sentinel Staff Writer
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Religion News Blog posted this on Monday September 8, 2003.
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