Universal Orlando construction update: It's a great time to be in the theme park design and construction business
Written by Robert Niles
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Theme park construction.
Universal Orlando has asked many of its big contractors to plan to stay on-site for at least a year following the completion of their current projects for the resort. Universal's clearly planning to continue major construction work on its properties after the completion of the current Cabana Bay and Harry Potter Diagon Alley projects.
There's lots of construction work under way in the Orlando theme parks, and more to come soon.
But what for? Here's what we know will happen: Universal will be taking on major construction work in Jurassic Park and at the Wet n' Wild water park property. I've not yet seen blueprints for either of those projects, so I'm not willing to report specifics of what will be happening on those sites. But I do know from sources on the ground in Orlando that Universal's focus will shift in those directions once Cabana Bay and Harry Potter are completed.
Honestly? Any area or attraction that was built before The Wizarding World of Harry Potter opened in June 2010, and that hasn't been substantially refurbished since, is a potential target for redevelopment over the next five to 10 years, either for a major Spider-Man or Springfield-like refurbishment, if not complete replacement. Banking so much cash from Harry Potter has convinced the NBCUniversal overlords to turn on the money hose for Universal's theme parks, and anything not up to "A"-grade quality (i.e. Disney-level finish standards) will be upgraded.
That's not just in Orlando. Remember, Universal Studios Hollywood has started its billion-dollar-plus "Evolution Plan" makeover of that property, with a new Central Plaza under construction, and Curious George and the Gibson Amphitheater closing over Labor Day to make room for Harry Potter. Throw in Despicable Me, a new hotel, at least two new attractions and a refurbished Studio Tour, and construction crews will remain busy on the mountain in Universal City for years to come.
Don't think the construction binge is simply a Universal development, either. Remember that Walt Disney World has Cars Land, Avatar and a Star Wars land all in various stages of development. Disney's Imagineers are slammed with work on Shanghai Disneyland, too.
I'm hearing that people at Disney would love to get going on expansion projects in Disneyland and California Adventure, building on the resort's momentum after the hit debut of Cars Land, but that the reawakening of Walt Disney World (following the reassignment of former Disneyland President George Kalogridis to oversee WDW) and the Shanghai work means that Disneyland doesn't have the parks division's development focus all to itself this time.
Another industry insider recently told me that theme park design firms simply can't staff fast enough for all the work in the business now, and with Imagineering and Universal Creative hiring so many top candidates, independent firms are having to get far more aggressive in recruiting than they have been in the past.
In short, if you're experienced in stagecraft, film production, architecture design, or construction management and want to get into the theme park business, now is the best time in a generation to do that. Join TEA. Get down to Orlando for the IAAPA Attractions Expo in November. And when you get your gig, don't forget who encouraged you. We love leaks at Theme Park Insider! ;^)
Even fans who don't care about the business of making theme park attractions can get excited about the industry's direction. More construction means more and better attractions in the years to come, in Orlando, in Southern California, and in Asia, not to mention at all the regional parks around the world that are hiring independent design firms to help them compete with Universal's and Disney's new developments.
It's not just a great time to be a theme park designer. It's a great time to be a theme park fan.
Update: Cedar Fair announces a three-year, $50 million capital improvement project for Carowinds, which will include new attractions.
Which new project are you most looking forward to visiting?
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