Universal Orlando has bought another enormous piece of land in Orlando, giving the amusement park company over 570 acres to work with for expansions, possibly including a new theme park.
The land is adjoining the $130 million buy Universal made in December 2015 for 475 acres of land close to the southern end of International Drive. Universal closed on 101 acres for $27.5 million, said Robert McEwan, first VP of CBRE, the real estate company that put together the arrangement for the merchant.
Universal officials affirmed the news in an email but have not yet sketched out plans.
“We are excited for the future, but have no additional details to share now,” stated Universal Orlando representative Tom Schroeder.
Universal Orlando Resort at this time occupies a reasonably compact area, with its amusement parks covering somewhere in the range of 200 acres and its entire resort zone covering about 700 acres. Guests can stroll from the front gate of Universal Studios to Islands of Adventure in less than 10 minutes. Last summer it added a third water theme park, Volcano Bay, with a 200-foot volcano visible from Interstate 4.
By contrast, Walt Disney Word is spread across 25,000 acres of land. Hopping from one park to another can take over 30 minutes by transport.
Universal has all the earmarks of being on a spending binge after it encountered history-making spikes in attendance after opening its Harry Potter attractions in its recent theme parks. But it has been hampered by a lack of space to develop.
Even though Disney is still king, with the Magic Kingdom remaining the most famous amusement park on the planet with 20.4 million guests last year, Universal has been nipping at its heels.
It started in 2010 when Universal opened the Wizarding World of Harry Potter and saw an exceptional 36 percent spike in attendance. During the same period, merchandise sales dramatically increased while food sales bounced about 60 percent. A second Harry Potter land, Diagon Alley, opened at Universal Studios in 2014.
Parent company Comcast has said it has aggressive expansion plans for Universal amusement parks, setting an objective of opening another tourist attraction every year. There’s a Fast & Furious — Supercharged ride coming to Orlando in the year to come. A new “highly themed” Harry Potter ride is supplanting the Dueling Dragons coaster in Islands of Adventure in 2019. And it plans a Nintendo-themed land at some point in the future under an arrangement with the Japanese video game giant.
In 2017, Walt Disney World’s market share tumbled to 69.3% of the Orlando amusement park market, the first time Disney has fallen underneath the 70% mark, as per a report in June from the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM. Also in that report, Universal Orlando Resort’s market share passed the 25% mark for the first time.
By comparison, Universal Orlando drew only 16% of the Orlando market in 2009, before the boy wizard arrived.
Already zoned for attractions, hotels, and tourism, the new land is a perfect match, according to McEwan, who also supervised the sale of the past enormous tract to Universal in 2015.
“The interesting part is, if you look at the theme parks they have now, this is double what they have.”
But the land is a couple of miles toward the south and on the inverse side of I-4 from Universal’s current resort. So, a road and transportation framework connecting the properties may be in the future.
Dennis Speigel, president of consulting firm International Theme Park Services, said he hopes to hear a declaration of another amusement park in a year and a half and predicts Universal will spend more than $1 billion in the next five years to open another park.
Dennis expressed: “They are on a roll like no one has seen in our industry in decades and their whole mode is geared toward expansion.”
“They are attempting to do what Disney has done, which is to keep people on property as long as they can. They are going for expansion in hotels, in retail and restaurants, and they need another gate to do that,” Dennis added.
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