How to Research New Theme Park Construction Projects

June 28, 2015, 1:31 PM

Wondering about what's really happening at the Universal Orlando Resort... and what's just fan imagination?

The Universal Orlando Resort has to file plans for its construction projects with several local governments, allowing fans to learn about those projects through public records searches. Universal tries to throw off fans by using project numbers for the names of its new developments rather than employing simple, obvious titles for them, such as "New King Kong Ride."

But from searching Universal's filings on local city, county and state websites, we know that the following projects are underway at the Universal Orlando Resort:

PROJECT 340 - Reign of Kong ride
PROJECT 533 - Volcano Bay water park
PROJECT 611 - Incredible Hulk coaster refurb/rebuild
PROJECT 620 - Demolition of Disaster! (though some think this might be Shrek, instead)
PROJECT 727 - Demolition of Twister
PROJECT 799 - Cabana Bay Beach Resort hotel expansion
PROJECT 862 - NBC Sports Grill and Bar

Now, when we say "underway," we mean that the process of obtaining permits for work has started — not that the physical work has begun. Obviously, the Twister and Disaster! attractions remain open at Universal Studios Florida, even as plans move forward on replacing them. Searching public records is a great way to fact-check construction rumors, to discover which projects are real and which might not be more than a type of fan fiction.

In case you're wondering, the Walt Disney World Resort plays by slightly different rules, as the Florida legislature created the Reedy Creek Improvement District to oversee the resort. Since Disney effectively controls the RCID, its construction process is not as transparent as that at Universal Orlando. But Disney still has to file publicly-accessible development plans with the state water authority, allowing fans a way to discover what's happening with construction at Walt Disney World.

I try to check these local agencies' websites for new permit applications whenever I can, but with all the work I'm doing these days, I really could use readers' help. So today, I'm posting links and instructions on how to check for Central Florida theme park construction projects. I hope that some of you will start checking these links on a regular basis, then post to our Discussion Board immediately when you find interesting new permits.

City of Orlando

Go to the city's permits website to search for any of the project numbers above in the "Project Name" field. You must use the complete phrase, such as "PROJECT 727" to get the list of permits associated with that project. If you want to find new projects, use the search by address function and input 1000 in the "Number" field and "Universal Studios" in the Street field. Warning: That will return a crazy number of permit applications, starting with ones more than a decade old. You'll need to click through to the final page of results to get the fresh stuff.

Orange County Comptroller

Go to the document search page and search for "Universal City Development Partners" under "Last Name First Name" in the "Either Party" section. If you switch to "Sort By" recording date and "Sort Order" descending for the options on the results page, you'll get the fresh stuff up top. Click the records on in the results to bring up the detail page, then find the "View Images" to bring up a scan of the actual permit documents, where the fun detail resides.

You can search for "SeaWorld" instead of Universal to find some of its projects, as well.

South Florida Water Management District

This is where Disney has to file its stuff, as well as Universal and SeaWorld. These filings are only for projects that affect ground and surface water, but with central Florida's water table being so high, pretty much anything that involves putting a shovel into dirt will end up needing a permit here. Go to its records search page and under "Company Name" look for "Reedy Creek Improvement District" for Disney and "Universal City Development Partners" for Universal. Then change the date fields at the bottom of the form to search for the most recent couple of months (or, the time since your last search). The most recent projects will come up first on the results pages.

Most of what you will find in these searches will be routine maintenance projects of little interest to fans, including back-of-house improvements, warehouse renovations, sewer and drainage modifications and the like. But you'll also find really interesting stuff, such as the new Frozen-themed meet-and-greet building in Epcot's Norway pavilion, the new Universal water park, and those two attraction demolitions at USF, to cite some recent finds.

I hope that this helps those you who are interested in becoming "citizen reporters" to help us keep closer track of what the parks are doing, long before they announce it.

Replies (3)

Edited: June 30, 2015, 3:23 PM

Here's where I have found permits for new projects at the Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, CA. Look for the ones at 1313 S HARBOR BLVD, which is Disneyland's address, of course.

June 30, 2015, 2:07 PM

Interesting. Thanks Robert good to know

June 30, 2015, 3:23 PM

Thanks Matthew!

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