If you remember Universal's "Evolution" plan for the property, which Los Angeles authorities approved several years ago, Universal planned new hotels near the park's entrance, to serve the expected influx of new visitors coming to see its new attractions.
Well, The Wizarding World of Harry Potter has opened and attendance at the park has soared thanks to that and other new attractions — rising from 5.1 million visitors in 2011 to nearly 8.1 million visitors last year, according to the Themed Entertainment Association's annual attendance reports. But Universal still hasn't moved publicly to add any hotels.
The old Fung Lum restaurant site next to the Frankenstein parking garage remains empty, but the word is out that the Saddle Ranch restaurant is closing after this month. Those were the two designated sites for hotels in the Evolution plan.
Now there's another hint that Universal might be ready to move. The Universal Hilton — one of two hotels currently on the Universal City property — is proposing to build a new 365-room, 15-story, $100 million addition. But NBCUniversal is fighting the plan, invoking its right to veto any third-party development on the site.
"Our key priority is to make sure that any development is compatible from a scale, density, traffic and other impacts standpoint. We understand the currently proposed project substantially exceeds what is allowed by current zoning," Universal officials said in a statement release to the press.
And then there's that issue of whether Universal is actually going to go ahead with those hotels it had included in the Evolution plan. If Universal is about to break ground on a new hotel, it's easy to see why it might not want competition from the Hilton. Or additional construction crews clogging the same strip of land around Universal Hollywood Drive where Universal planned its hotels.
But we still don't know exactly what Universal plans to do. All we can tell at this point is that something is up... and that if Universal is planning to develop its hotel(s), its development partner most likely is not Hilton. (Universal partners Loews at the Universal Orlando Resort.)
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