Santa’s strikes back: Enchanted Forest owners sue Miami-Dade over Tropical Park ouster

Alie Skowronski/

There’s a legal war underway between a Christmas Wonderland and Santa’s Enchanted Forest, with allegations of cronyism in county government and illegal contracts swirling around holiday plans at Tropical Park.

And that doesn’t touch claims of betrayal by a Halloween circus that’s been left out of the action at the county facility.

Nearly three years after Miami-Dade County ousted Santa’s Enchanted Forest from its 37-year home at Tropical Park, the holiday carnival is suing to block a rival from taking its place this winter.

Late last month, Santa’s filed a civil lawsuit against Miami-Dade and Loud and Live Engage. That’s the Doral company that owns Christmas Wonderland, a competing holiday carnival set to debut Nov. 16 at Tropical Park, which is just west of the Palmetto Expressway and south of Bird Road.

“This lawsuit is being brought to seek redress for the County’s backroom dealings, utter disregard for its own rules and cronyism,” reads the introduction of the Santa’s suit.

It asks a Circuit Court judge to cancel the county permit that Loud and Live has to run the for-profit event at Tropical. It also demands Loud and Live stop marketing Christmas Wonderland as a virtual clone of Santa’s, which now operates in temporary fairgrounds in Medley after losing its Tropical Park lease in 2020.

READ MORE: Santa’s Enchanted Forest could be back for Christmas in 2020 if county mayor agrees

Competing holiday events

Etan Mark, the Miami lawyer representing Santa’s, said Thursday he had nothing to add beyond what’s in the complaint. Representatives of Loud and Live and the Miami-Dade Parks, Recreation and Open Spaces Department were not immediately available for comment on the suit, which was filed Oct. 27.

The litigation opens a new chapter in the Santa’s saga, which had a falling out with the administration of Mayor Carlos Gimenez, who left office in 2020.

READ MORE: How Hialeah saved Christmas: Santa’s Enchanted Forest finds a new home for 2021

That year, the Gimenez administration declined to renew the lease that made Santa’s a winter staple at Tropical, where it offered a mix of rides, carnival food and lighted Christmas decorations. Gimenez said the event was showing its age and wanted a competition to let other operators propose refreshed versions of what Santa’s offered.

“I’ve been there with my grandchildren,” Gimenez said at the time. “To be honest with you, the experience wasn’t the greatest.”

The bulk of the Santa’s suit focuses on why Miami-Dade let Loud and Live run a Christmas carnival at Tropical without the competitive process that Gimenez said would be coming. The current mayor, Daniella Levine Cava, was a commissioner when Santa’s lost its lease and voted for a resolution urging Gimenez to consider keeping Santa’s in place while the county prepared the bidding for a long-time operator. Gimenez rejected the plan.

Santa’s suit isn’t the only litigation claiming misdeeds over Tropical Park holiday fun.

READ MORE: This eerie circus is coming to Tropical Park to get Miami in the Halloween mood

But wait, there Elves are involved, too

In late September, a company called Elves Incorporated sued Loud and Live over claims of betrayal over a failed agreement to jointly produce a Christmas carnival in 2022. An Elves affiliate put on the Halloween Circus festival at Tropical in 2021, but said its county dealings fell apart after it partnered with Loud and Live for a joint Christmas event in 2022. That event didn’t happen, and Elves said its lost its Halloween permit, too, only to see Loud and Live get the go-ahead for this year’s Wonderland carnival.

In the suit, Elves blames campaign donations and lobbying by Loud and Live. In a response, Loud and Live dismissed the allegations as fabricated and said the suit was an attempt to sidestep an arbitration requirement in their original deal. An Elves lawyer was not immediately available for comment.

With Santa’s planning to open its gates in Medley on Nov. 9, the upcoming holiday season will give the festival its first head-to-head competition since leaving Tropical. Christmas Wonderland plans the same footprint at Tropical as Santa’s, according to the lawsuit, and is advertising the country’s largest traveling Ferris wheel, a half-mile of light shows and decorations, and an “Instragram-worthy” exhibit space called “HoliDade.”

A Wonderland promotional video announces: “Christmas Returns to Tropical Park.”