Universal Orlando pulls permits to widen Sand Lake Road

August 21, 2018, 1:07 PM

The Orlando Sentinel reporting: "Universal Orlando Resort is seeking to widen a roughly half-mile portion of Sand Lake Road north of the land it’s been acquiring. The new permit application comes as the theme park operator is pursuing a major expansion in Orlando. Universal has acquired 575 acres around Universal Boulevard in the past two years."

Anyone who travels along Sand Lake Road (about a quarter of a mile east of Martin Marrietta) will see the miles and miles of scraped earth that Universal has prepped for development. Construction fencing is in place. Just across the street from the entrance to the Tangelo Park community is a gate to access the site. During the regular work week there is a Universal Orlando secuirty van parked at that entrance.

So when would you guess a fourth gate would start operations? 2021? 2022? 2023? Thoughts, please.

Replies (34)

Edited: August 21, 2018, 4:23 PM

2024? 2025? 2026?

There's no information to base a prediction.

Edited: August 21, 2018, 7:45 PM

I travel along Sand Lake 5 days a week, back and forth to work. For me it’s now an intriguing puzzle .... just what are they doing ?? I try hard to picture the final plan but so far it eludes me. As I’ve said before, I’m pretty sure the entrance to the new park will be along Sand Lake ... somewhere ? This became more of a certainty when they widened John Young at Sand Lake, and are now proceeding to build a bridge over Sand Lake. This allows none Universal traffic to flow thru much quicker. The Sand Lake construction has been going on for 15 months and I’d guess there’s a good 18-24 months to go. The land clearing on the LMO side is gaining pace, so for sure they have already started on preparing for the new park. Road infrastructure has to be in place before any serious construction takes place, so taking my 2 years for Sand Lake completion, plus however long it takes to build a park ?? Then I can’t see anything earlier than 2023. All very mysterious goings on along that stretch from John Young to Universal. The 2nd new bridge over shingle creek is nearly done, but why has the road been lifted 6-7ft in the air almost obscuring the Racetrac along there ? Is that a possible exit ramp off Sand Lake to the new park entrance ? Time will tell.
On other Universal news ..... the footbridge over Kirkman is taking shape. Concrete supports are in, and the long and winding walkway is beginning to appear. New road signs are appearing, but as yet nothing that points you in the direction of the new park ... :)

Edited: September 1, 2018, 3:37 PM

@ Anron M: We can look at some history of previous park development. According to Wikipedia Universal announced intentions to build a second park in September 1993. IOA opened 5-1/2 years later. As Makorider has noted, activity at the site along Sand Lake Road is accelerating. I think it's reasonable to believe that we will see the new pArk in 2022 or 2023 -- which will allow UO to ride the coattails/momentum created by the billion dollar investment WDW has made in the attractions that will open before it's 50th anniversary in 2021

August 24, 2018, 8:52 AM

I'm curious how Universal is managing to widen a public roadway with their funds. It would be reasonable to assume that local authorities would cooperate with Universal to get the work done, but the process is obviously much different than Disney's process to make improvements to their Reedy Creek infrastructure. I wonder how they fund the whole process.

It's also readily apparent that anything Universal does in this area has a tremendous impact on other private entities as well as public entities (Orange County Convention Center for example). The whole situation looks like a minefield with potential lawsuits or permitting delays by the truckload.

With all of the hurdles they face as well as working out the kinks in the public/private partnerships they have to make with their neighbors, and considering that Universal has to meet a rising standard due to their one-upmanship relationship with Disney, I'd say that we will see a new resort later, say 2025, rather than sooner.

August 24, 2018, 9:58 AM

They want the park open by 2023 at the latest. I'll be very surprised if it doesn't hit that mark. They're already prepping the land for construction.

August 24, 2018, 3:00 PM

Is it possible Universal will move the offices and some storage/back lots over the highway to free up some room at the 2 parks?

August 25, 2018, 8:38 AM

@ Doug Jenkins: Spot on! The earliest construction projects look to be just that ... Warehouse and office space.

August 25, 2018, 10:34 PM

I hate to let the cat out of the bag and burst everyone's bubbles, but the plan is to use that area to film movies and not actually build a theme park of any kind. If anyone has been keeping track of the industry, they would know how expensive it is to film in LA/Hollywood and quite a few movies are being filmed outside of the area due to cost pressures.

Deadpool 4 is already scheduled to be filmed at the new Comcastic Studios Orlando and I have to say that I have some exclusive insight into this. And since I am making fat paychecks, they have to reign in the costs elsewhere by filming outside of the pretentious liberal cesspit of southern Cali.

As for the road widening, it is so I can get my brand new exclusive model Bugatti Divo up the road without actually scrapping any debris along the side of the road. Also my huge entourage would easily clog a narrow road.

So...no theme park for you...

Which would also explain why they haven't announced anything...since there is nothing to announce...at least nothing that you theme park geeks would care about...

August 25, 2018, 10:37 PM

...and let's be honest here...Until they get around to building DeadpoolLand, there just isn't anything to get hot and bothered about...

August 26, 2018, 1:32 AM

Well, that makes sense. Especially since Disney did so well with their movie filming/animating there.

August 26, 2018, 7:36 AM

The post from Deadpool is almost as funny as the second Deadpool flick ... Meaning he's not funny.

August 26, 2018, 12:31 PM

It's okay. I understand that you are jealous. It's okay to feel that way.

However, I would still be willing to bet you 1.5 billion in worldwide gross sales that my movies are funnier than anything you have done.

Great looking guy. Great looking suit. Great looking ass. And filthy rich now. It shouldn't be allowed to happen all to the same guy. I agree.

But then again, bad guys don't kill themselves.

August 29, 2018, 10:38 AM

According to new permits, mass grading for the new theme park resort area will be completed in early 2020. The rumored 2022 opening date seems more and more likely.

Edited: August 29, 2018, 2:31 PM

If an entire theme park can be built from the ground up in 2 years (especially to the quality expected of Universal), I would be flabbergasted. Even if grading and site prep work were finished in early 2020, there's absolutely no way you could construct a 100-acre facility in under 3 years. It will have taken Universal over 18 months to build a single roller coaster when the Forbidden Forest attraction opens next summer (not to mention the 8 months to demo Dragon Challenge). Heck, it's taken them 2+ years to build just a single hotel on a tiny plot of land, nothing compared to the complexity of a theme park with buildings and attractions from dozens of different vendors and providers and hundreds of different construction crews and teams working simultaneously.

Late 2023 would be earliest I could see a new theme park opening if land works (which would have to also include all utilities and sub-grade conduits) aren't completed until early 2020.

August 29, 2018, 3:08 PM

Construction on Islands of Adventure started in 1997 and the park was open in 1999.

Things are a lot easier to build when you're not hemmed in by other buildings, a thriving theme park resort, and backstage of theme park daily business.

August 30, 2018, 11:23 AM

Considering all of the opinions presented on this thread, I would ballpark May 2023.

August 31, 2018, 10:48 AM

I think 2023 is probably the most likely timeframe as well. Even if they're aiming for 2022, things always get delayed.

Edited: August 31, 2018, 11:55 AM

Reviewing the Orlando timeline:
(Corrections are invited)
WDW - 2019 - DSTP - NBA Experience
WDW - 2019 - DSTP - Disney/Cirque Show
WDW - 2019 - DHS - Star Wars: Galaxy's Edge
UO - 2019 - USF - Terminator Replacement
UO - 2019 - IOA - Potter Coaster
WDW - 2019 - DHS - Mickey & Minnie Runaway Rail Train
Orlando Airport - Terminal C Expansion
WDW - 2020 - Disney Skyliner System
WDW - 2020 - EPCOT - Ratatouille
WDW - 2020 - EPCOT - Guardians of the Galaxy
UO - 2020 - IOA - Sinbad Replacement
WDW - 2021 - 50th Anniversary
WDW - 2021 - EPCOT - Lagoon Show
WDW - 2021 - TRON coaster
WDW - 2022 - Star Wars hotel
UO - 2023 - Fourth Gate

August 31, 2018, 12:00 PM

Personally I'd say this is UO's timeline
2019 - USF - T2 Replacement
2019 - IOA - Potter Coaster
2020 - IoA - Jurassic Park Coaster
2021 - USF - KidZone Replacement
2022 - IoA - Lost Continent Replacement
2023 - 3rd Park

The prevailing rumor around Sinbad is that it won't be replaced in the next 2 years.

August 31, 2018, 12:10 PM

Got a solid lead on an IOA Jurassic coaster?

August 31, 2018, 12:29 PM

They've posted permits to demolish the old Triceratops Encounter area. The project number for the overall project is 791. Allegedly it will be a terrain hugging coaster that will also go over the IoA lagoon in front of the JP Discovery Center. Construction is rumored to start once the Potter coaster finishes up

August 31, 2018, 12:44 PM

Outstanding news!

September 1, 2018, 8:20 AM

Sean, is your KidZone replacement the proposed Nintendo Land or is it something else?

September 1, 2018, 8:32 AM

Looking at the timelines that TH Creative and Sean Huckel have given us makes me wonder if we're seeing the beginning of a new normal for the theme park complexes in Orlando. Hypothetically, Universal could build 2 more theme parks, another entertainment area, and several more hotels on the land they own south of I-4. That could be 10-15 more years of fairly aggressive development. Disney doesn't seem to be resting on their laurels either like they did in the latter half of the Eisner regime, and with all of the IP they own, another park in addition to all of the planned expansion they have on the books right now certainly isn't out of the question. Looks like the next several years are going to be a good time to be a theme park enthusiast!

September 1, 2018, 1:21 PM

I am just throwing darts, but I firmly believe that Disney won't build another themepark, but rather will come up with a way to expand the perimeter of the Magic Kingdom. But that's totally a guess.

September 4, 2018, 9:18 AM

Tim, it's not the Nintendo land we know. That will be going into Park 3. Allegedly another Nintendo land themed to Pokemon will go into KidZone.

September 4, 2018, 9:56 AM

The problem with trying to make Magic Kingdom bigger TH is that trying to stuff even more people in the world's most visited theme park will just make it more uncomfortable. It's already shoulder to shoulder on even moderately crowded days to view the park-wide fireworks shows and parades. Enlarging the perimeter of the MK will just lead Disney to stuff even more people into the gates, lowering the satisfaction of those wanting to catch even an obstructed glimpse of the "must-see" shows. At some point a park reaches a point of diminishing returns where increasing the size by 10% only results in a 5% increase in attendance/revenue. The Fantasyland expansion was the first test case, which probably shows that blowing out beyond the previous perimeter yielded positive results. Tron will be the next test case. However, the real question is at what point is a theme park too big? If it's nearly impossible to experience all of the best a theme park has to offer in a single day, or even 2 days during the busiest seasons, what advantage is there continuing to make a single park bigger and bigger versus simply splitting the park in 2 (or putting those expansions into a different gate)? I agree that it's unlikely that Disney is going to build another park in Orlando any time soon, but I think there's far more value in backfilling new attractions into existing or underutilized space occupied by unpopular attraction, than there is to expand the perimeter of MK onto virgin ground.

Edited: September 4, 2018, 8:08 PM

Why not close/replace outdated attractions (thus not increasing the number of attractions) and then expand the perimeter to increase the number of public areas/walkways to relieve congrestion -- the way they expanded the hardscape ares in the hub in front of the castle?

September 7, 2018, 9:53 AM

Russell, I think THC has a good point. The Magic Kingdom has always driven attendance at Disney World. The other parks occasionally get a great attraction like Flight of Passage in DAK or land like Star Wars/Galaxy's Edge in DHS, but ultimately people show up for the Magic Kingdom. Until recently, the other Disney parks in Orlando pulled only around 60% of the attendance of the Magic Kingdom. Even with all of the recently completed and ongoing additions to the other parks, I don't think that ratio is going to change much. We may see the rare uptick in attendance for a park when something new comes along, but the attendance figures will gradually revert to the 60% norm.

So, Disney has to keep the shine on the crown jewel. About the only way to do that is to keep expanding and updating it. Adding pathways around the perimeter would help with movement around the park and adding another entry/exit point would help with congestion on Main Street. There's still the problem with transportation to/from the park, but another entry/exit point might allow an expansion of the transportation system.

I'd still like to see a 5th gate at DW, but it probably won't happen.

September 7, 2018, 10:34 AM

Disney is a business, and it's number 1 priority to to make $$$. However, I think MK is nearing its maximum limits. As a business relying on ever increasing revenues to drive growth, those increases in revenue can only come from 3 places - admission increases, increased attendance, and upcharges.

The annual increase in admission cost has become almost ingrained in the Disney Drone psyche, so there's only so much they can do there before they create a disruptive situation that could upset the expected revenue increases there - I'll get more into this at the end.

Disney has really gone all in on the upcharge game. From making food more desirable and expansive to all the hard ticket, special events, and upcharge options available to guests compared to just 10 years ago is astounding. I'm constantly astonished every time Disney comes out with some new mechanism for squeezing every last penny out of their most loyal fans (the $250 "media day" event for Pixar Pier was jaw dropping to me) that I really shouldn't be surprised by what they come up with next. However, I think at some point (maybe the $1,000/night Star Wars Hotel) average guests will hit the wall and finally say "no".

The final way Disney can increase its revenue is through increasing park capacity (i.e. increasing attendance). Whether that's enticing guests to stay an extra day or 2 beyond their standard 7-day trip or stuffing an extra 1,000 new families into their parks each day, at some point the law of diminishing returns starts to kick in. This is where I think Disney has to be careful with the MK. Yes, it's already the world's most visited theme park, but does making the current footprint of the park 10% larger lead to 10% more guests. My contention is that it wouldn't. Even considering the laws of induced demand (a law typically referenced when officials want to add lanes to a highway), Disney is unlikely to get much bang for their buck by expanding their perimeter.

With Universal clearly in expansion mode, Disney ultimately needs to evaluate what they want to be. For decades, they have represented the destination of choice for blue collar families. However, that success has resulted in them spending billions trying to keep their appeal to the Middle Class while still growing the business, even as disposable income continues to shrink and blue collar wages stagnate. This has led Disney to attract more white collar and upper class guests with disposable income to spare, but is leaving their "core" guest of middle class families in the lurch. For as much as Disney tries to continue to appeal to the middle class (over $1B in FP+ may have been seen as a sound investment 10 years ago, but where has it gotten Disney today?), they cannot give them value anymore while still serving their "Sugar Daddies". At some point, Disney is going to be forced to shift their focus to ensuring the satisfaction of the guests that are paying premium prices to visit their parks to the point where low-margin middle class guests are sacrificed. The upcharge dessert parties and after hours events are just the beginning, and honestly, I thought the $100 threshold would signal more significant admission increases down the line, which may still be on the horizon.

At some point, middle class guests will be unwilling/unable to shell out $150+/day to visit the Disney parks, at which point having an extra 20 acres of space will be useless, because revenue increases demanded from a publicly traded company will need to come solely from per cap spending (more upcharges and higher admission prices) as blue collar guests can no longer afford to visit, or go as frequently as they did before. Whether that shift happens in the next 3-5 years or next decade is not clear, but I think it's coming. In the not so distant future, the average middle class family will only be able to visit WDW once in their lifetime, causing Disney to start marketing the resort as a "luxury" destination, and not the everyman's destination that it was originally built to be.

September 7, 2018, 11:30 AM

RM: "At some point, middle class guests will be unwilling/unable to shell out $150+/day to visit the Disney parks ..."

I Respond: I assume the same would be true for Universal if they match Disney ticket prices.

September 7, 2018, 12:04 PM

"I assume the same would be true for Universal if they match Disney ticket prices."

Absolutely, unless they make the business decision to go after the blue collar/middle class demographic that Disney is leaving behind.

September 7, 2018, 1:08 PM

The blue collar/middle class people that Disney is leaving behind are the pass holders. The lifeblood of their existence, and if they continue to stab them in the back by catering more and more to people with "disposable incomes", then they will be gone. Now if Universal is smart, especially when the new park opens, and they continue to support their pass holders by keeping well away from what Disney is doing now, they should reap rich rewards in the next few years. This could be one of the reasons SeaWorld's attendance has improved so much this year ... ? the pass holder exodus from Disney has already started ?

September 7, 2018, 2:50 PM

Guys, we might as well admit it. Disney is aiming for the top 20% income families in the country. Universal is too. The top 20% income families can afford to visit on a near yearly basis. They can afford the onsite hotels and the DVC options. Same thing goes for the international visitors. They're in the top 20% in their countries.

Blue collar income families mostly go to Six Flags, Cedar Fair, Busch Gardens, and the regional parks. Or they go to the county/state fair once a year for their thrill ride fix. Disney and Universal haven't been in their sights for a long time. It's just too expensive.

And Russell, I don't know if I'm in the middle of the bell curve or an outlier, but that FP+ investment that Disney made has me visiting on a more frequent basis. 10 years ago, I avoided Disney because the paper FP didn't work for me. Universal is where I spent my money. Now I'm splitting my time between the resorts and that's due to FP+. (At least until that 3rd Universal Orlando gate opens then all bets are off!)

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