Could Universal Orlando add a third gate?

July 14, 2015, 9:42 AM

Not that I have any idea, but in looking at the Universal Orlando Resort property I wonder if the company has any future plans to acquire the land bound by Kirkman Rd., Vineland Rd., the Turnpike and I-4.

The land looks underutilized (except of course for a couple of hotels), is directly adjacent to the current property, and is easily enough space to house a third gate. Smart people in the know probably already have an idea, so I'm just asking.

The next question of course would be: what could Universal put behind a third gate, and is there a need for one if Universal wants to viably compete with Disney in Orlando?

Replies (50)

July 14, 2015, 12:00 PM

Not sure where you are talking about, but if I were travelling west on I-4 and got off at the Kirkman Road exit ... If you're referring to the property on the immediate right (adjacent where 'Mystery Funhouse' used to sit) then the answer is "no" because construction has already commenced on that property.

July 14, 2015, 12:20 PM

Isn't Universal Orland already viably competing with WDW the parks, waterparks, and partnerships with non-disney parks it has already?

July 14, 2015, 12:34 PM

Sure - Universal could buy Disney's Hollywood Studios to really stick it to Disney....

July 14, 2015, 12:52 PM

@Chad H - I would say Universal's individual parks are moving into the same attendance category as some of Disney's parks, but the resort as a whole does not have the space to compete with WDW as a whole. However, adding a third gate could move them closer to that goal, which they could only do with more land. The space I outlined is the most viable adjacent property, but it would have to be acquired.

@TH - I guess that makes the possibility less likely for the near future, eh?

@Brian - Isn't Universal already sticking it to Disney by showing them what a realistic construction timeline looks like for an attraction? ;)

July 15, 2015, 8:53 AM

When I clicked on this article, I was positive it was old Volcano Bay info. I'd say it's too early to think about that, granted how much construction they have ahead of them. Be interesting to see what they'd theme any third gate as hehehe.

July 15, 2015, 6:18 PM

No cost would be pretty prohibitive for the expansion on that side of Kirkman. And the construction is for an extra overpass from the Premium Outlets to Universal.

There are only really two options for Universal Expansion currently:

1. Artegon Mall demolition and its adjacent property being built into a third gate. The problem is in a heavy traffic area and not land beyond a theme park.

2. This is the most cost effective and easiest to expand (but has liabilities) BUY SeaWorld!! For less than Disney will spend on Hollywood Studios Expansion you could add 3 Orlando Parks and almost 5000 Hotel Rooms with the flick of a pen and lets say 3 billion dollars. Toss in an additional Southern California Theme Park and Water Park a Texas Presence a companion. Universal would regain the DreamWorks IP and Sesame Street (domestically). You could even spin the Busch Parks off to Cedar Fair or Six Flags to help finance the deal. SW would also be an easy Second Gate if they did move to Moscow, Korea, China or Dubai. SW isn't much further from UO than DAK is from MK.

The obvious downside is PR and how the public would react, but that is starting to subside and the groups protesting SW may be loud but their size and scope seems overblown.

Edited: July 16, 2015, 9:04 AM

i think when wet n wild closes they will put a third gate there

July 16, 2015, 8:59 AM

they could use some of the lagoon for its night time shows

July 16, 2015, 9:37 AM

In buying SeaWorld, Universal can obviously de-emphasize Shamu and add more movie IP. The Shamu shows will go away, but their new exhibit space will remain. This is mostly unlikely because their location is so far away from Universal that they cannot take advantage of owning SeaWorld. They were shortsighted in building Cabana Bay and Sapphire Falls Resorts since the third theme park could have went there.

They could buy out Artegon Marketplace, as mentioned above, or they could buy out Fun Spot America, the Outlet Marketplace, and the budget hotels nearby.

Universal Studios still has expansion room at Backlot Drive and Expo Backstage Road behind the Simpson Ride. Although Universal's two parks are getting more attendance, the two parks still seem deserted in the off season or off hours. The park isn't that crowded at the older rides and attractions. They can hold off on the third park for another 20 years. They should buy the land though and make their move in the future.

July 16, 2015, 10:31 AM

@Anon, I agree that Universal's expansion plan, if in the works, is likely a long-term investment. There certainly is still room to expand within the existing land, but none of that land is large enough for a third gate.

I believe that Universal's interest in building so many hotels where they could have placed a third gate shows the possibility that they plan to add more land at some point. Otherwise, do they really need 5 hotels?

July 16, 2015, 10:34 AM

Note it is 5.2 miles from Animal Kingdom to Magic Kingdom and 5.8 miles from Universal Orlando to SeaWorld. So the distance should not be an issue as the original location for Universal's Third Park was going to be near the OCCC about 4.8 miles away

Edited: July 16, 2015, 1:45 PM

I think Universal is being smart and keeping all their parks located on resort property and expanding off of it. One of the biggest complaints you hear working or even visiting WDW over anything else are the busses. There isn't a viable way to connect the parks other than bussing people. Unlike WDW, the busses will have to take public roads.

Sea World would also require a very significant investment by Universal to upgrade the park and bring it thematically to Univsersals current standards. Remodeling and retheming may end up costing as much as building a new theme park that doesn't have the stigma of keeping fish in bowls.

Edited: July 16, 2015, 7:15 PM

I would disagree that SW is that far off from the standards of UO

Discovery Cove and Aquatica would need very little if anything beyond signage

SeaWorld is in pretty good shape, the landscaping is probably better than Universal's and infrastructure which is most expensive seems to be in order

Also are we discounting 5000 rooms on SW property and while Ultimate I4 currently ends at Kirkman Road it would be interesting what Universal could get altered on the extension that is planned for the balance of I4 to Disney to help accommodate transit between the two areas.

July 16, 2015, 10:25 PM

I suppose we will have to agree to disagree. I feel the complete opposite on what you've stated thematically apart from Discovery Cove.

July 17, 2015, 7:34 AM

I think that the best think Universal has currently going for it is that everything is accessible on foot or reasonably by water taxi. I find it to be a huge plus that I can take a 15 min. walk to my on-site hotel whenever I need a mid-day break from the parks. Of course Disney has this same option when staying at certain hotels, but even then there is always a park that requires bus transit. I think if Universal has the opportunity to keep a third gate connected to the current property, they should take it.

July 17, 2015, 7:46 AM

Nick: I wholeheartedly agree with you. That's the special allure of Universal to me.

July 17, 2015, 8:43 AM

The other problem with considering a remote location for a third gate is that it would completely break the illusion of a resort experience, no matter how you might be transported there. Whereas there is mostly forest in between Disney's remote parks, there are highways and development directly surrounding Universal. I believe this is the reason that Universal chose to completely rebuild their water parks on site rather than revamp Wet 'n Wild at its current location.

July 17, 2015, 3:42 PM

In other words, based on the limits of its space, Universal Orlando's opportunities to expand are ... Limited.

July 18, 2015, 7:01 AM

From a personal standpoint, I would love to see Universal build a third gate.

From a realistic standpoint, I don't think we'll even see offical rumors of one, even if they did have space. It doesn't even need to expand all that much anyway...

Why do we have to talk about a third gate when Volcano Bay opens in 2017. (I think that's when it opens publicly)

July 18, 2015, 10:59 AM

I'm talking about Universal Orlando's long-term prospects for growth, it's just a hypothetical. There certainly hasn't been any official talk about a third gate. It's just that if Universal hopes to realistically compete head-to-head with Disney in Orlando, it may not be able to do that with only two parks (and a water park). So if that's the case, the property I outlined above seems like the most easily accessible adjacent space to make that happen. I wouldn't be surprised if Universal does acquire more land somewhere at some point.

On another note, I wonder what Universal has planned for the Wet 'n' Wild property. Seems like there really is only enough space for a hotel there, and they will already have 5 hotels for two parks. It also looks way too small for a third gate (unless there were plans to fill in the lake adjacent to the property). Could anything else go there?

July 20, 2015, 9:56 AM

A third gate seems unrealistic unless Universal decides to double down on its Marvel theme park rights and open an Avengers theme park. Disney can't stop them.

July 20, 2015, 10:07 AM

I think Robert could speak better to that. But I do not believe Universal can not open new Marvel attractions without Disney's approval but can maintain and upgrade the ones they have.

They would have IP's for a third park: Nintendo is now in their house, LOTR (granted hard to acquire). Fast & the Furious (if not going to USF). Hello Kitty for a small land, Transylvania & Classic Movie Monsters. Or just purchase SW and they would add DreamWorks Animation and Sesame Street.

July 20, 2015, 10:27 AM

Universal would not be able to build new attractions dedicated to Marvel. So that begs the question of what theme could fill an entire new park? They have a park dedicated to making movies and one to "islands" of IP. What other kinds of themes are there to build on, other than a park dedicated to one IP? Disney has tried with EPCOT and and succeeded with Animal Kingdom, but I don't know if Universal would mess with animals.

July 20, 2015, 7:49 PM

Maybe Animation Emplre where they can fill it with Nintendo, Simpsons, Despicable Me Minions, or others.

July 21, 2015, 8:53 AM

"Animation Empire".....Sounds like the original vision for IOA. I think they were calling it Cartoon World, or something like that.

July 21, 2015, 9:13 AM

That actually makes a lot of sense; I can see how a full park could be dedicated to animated characters. And with the way that Universal is creating fully immersive experiences, a park full of Diagon Alley-like investment would be pretty sweet.

July 21, 2015, 10:45 AM

Cartoon World was more Blondie, Hagar the Horrible, Popeye, etc. I think the day of static newspaper comic strip characters has passed us by.

July 22, 2015, 9:58 AM

All things considered I think the answer to the question posed on this thread is: "Anything is possible ... but probably not."

July 22, 2015, 10:27 AM

It definitely is a hypothetical, but I guess the more pressing question is, what is Universal's primary need over the next 10-15 years? Can they grow to be a true competitor to Disney in Orlando with the land they currently possess, or will it take more to make that happen? I think that Universal has limited opportunities on its current property and that it is likely that the surrounding area is fair game, even if it is currently developed. Or, perhaps, Universal is not interested in expansion and will stick to what is already owned. Time will tell.

July 22, 2015, 10:54 AM

Universal certainly could put in a third gate. Their masterful handling of the Harry Potter aquisition and subsequent attraction building displays a thorough strategy to increase markey share and seriously challenge WDW for tourist time and dollars.

July 22, 2015, 12:15 PM

Probably not now. Sapphire Falls is almost open and Volcano will open in 2017. All projects will see light very soon. Then a period where we wait.

July 22, 2015, 9:02 PM

Universal announced the goal of 15,000 to 20,0000 hotel rooms in Orlando. That means after Sapphire Falls they would still need about 10,000 more rooms. All of those can't fit on Wet N Wild's old property.

So a third gate or something else is obviously needed to anchor those rooms.

July 23, 2015, 9:47 AM

Yes, the need another gate to justify 10,000 more rooms. Buying out SeaWorld makes more sense in this case. With the SeaWorld property, they can attach a third park to the property and add more hotel rooms and a shuttle to go between SeaWorld and Universal. So 5 Universal parks to Disney's 4 parks.

July 23, 2015, 10:12 AM

Even is Universal did ever buy the Sea World property, I don't think they would keep the current park. They would likely start over or at least do a major redo of the current park in order to keep with their current standards. It's also not a very practical purchase given the distance of the park from the rest of the Universal property.

Edited: July 23, 2015, 10:52 AM

SeaWorld's standards are already very high. They don't need major renovation and much of the announced new additions will fix it like the new hyper roller coaster and the killer whale habitat. Universal will bring new IP for new attractions. SeaWorld is counterprogramming to Disney's Animal Kingdom. Distance isn't as much of an impediment as I originally thought especially with at least 2 parks in each location. They should turn Discovery Cove into a full park before doing a third park.

July 23, 2015, 10:43 AM

Could they? Sure, if they buy enough land.

Personally I don't see it. Sufficient land will come at a high premium, distance from the core resort will be an issue, and I think expanding the resort to that level will put a strain on resources too much.

July 23, 2015, 11:18 AM

@Sean, I am not sure what you mean when you say that there will be a strain on resources. Does that mean that Universal would not have enough resources to support another park? That they can't afford to buy land? Not sure that Comcast has any problem spending any amount of money needed to support growth at this point.

July 23, 2015, 11:34 AM

Nick, just look at WDW. They built their third and fourth parks in quick succession. Neither was build with enough attractions. Now we're seeing them have to play catch up by pumping nearly a billion into DAK, and if rumors are true 2+ billion into DHS. Not to mention that while this is happening, EPCOT is falling apart at the seams.

Personally, I'd rather see them continue investing in the existing two parks before shelling out a lot of money just to buy the land for another park, let alone however much it would take to build the park itself.

July 23, 2015, 11:36 AM

What I don't understand on the part of Universal is why they hemmed themselves in with their current location. I mean when they started construction they could see what Disney had and how that allowed WDW to expand as needed so why would they not have purchased a larger parcel on the city outskirts or even closer to Kissimmee.

I would like to see UO expand to a 3rd gate but land and logistics seem to be a problem.

July 23, 2015, 11:50 AM

@Sean I see what you mean. I think Universal will continue to make the most of their current parks, as there is still some unused land to be moved into. If there ever is a plan to expand, I bet it would be 10-15 years from now.

July 23, 2015, 11:59 AM

Vaughn, Universal had purchased a significant parcel of land in 1998 that they planned for a third park, more rooms, and a golf course on. Then 9/11 happened, their business tanked, and Vivendi (then the owner of Universal) panicked and sold the land to a developer.

July 23, 2015, 12:21 PM

Well that's something I didn't know before! Bet they're regretting that decision now.

July 23, 2015, 3:18 PM

Sean, I often wondered why they had allowed themselves to get hemmed in, thank you for that insight.

July 23, 2015, 11:45 PM

I'm of the mindset that Universal will probably never open a third gate. There is not enough land for it, period. Their best best is to get creative and enlarge the footprint of the two existing parks, with the goal of increasing the number of quality attractions.

Universal Orlando is like the best 5ft 4in basketball player you've ever seen. He can completely max out his potential, but he's never going to be 6ft. Universal will cram everything they can into the space they have, and make it a completely immersive experience that will provide amazing memories - for a weekend.

It's the same problem Disneyland Resort has in Anaheim.

Off topic, but I'd really like to see Disney World integrate DHS with the EPCOT Resorts area. You currently can walk from Boardwalk to Hollywood Studios, but it's not all that pleasant, and could be improved greatly. EPCOT, DHS, and the EPCOT Resorts area is where Disney World can really do something special, and I feel as if they're missing out on an opportunity to make that a real gem.

July 24, 2015, 1:59 AM

There's a plot of land off of kirkman and major blvd. it has hotels and shops and empty space. Not sure how much it would cost to buy them out and demolish everything but it's the only choice they have. It's right next to the resort to the east.

July 24, 2015, 4:23 AM

Would be easier and cheaper to buy out Dr. Phillips High School behind IOA off Turkey Lake Road than the hotels off Kirkman

July 24, 2015, 10:16 AM

I certainly think that there is still a lot of space to be developed on Universal Orlando's current property. An attraction or even two the likes of Diagon Alley could fit in the empty space next to Men In Black: Alien Attack. Plus, they will likely replace dated rides all over the property and replace them with top-notch attractions before considering another property. As pointed out above, Disneyland is also landlocked and has had to maximize its value with limited land over the years.

However, I don't think it is impossible for them to expand and I do think there is land in close proximity that could be bought and made valuable. There is enough drive behind Universal right now to pretty much do anything over the next 15-20 years.

Edited: July 24, 2015, 6:03 PM

Go see the Universal video game thread.

Edit: here's a link of the rumors. Universal could be in the process of acquiring land.

July 25, 2015, 6:33 AM

I would love to have more details on what pieces of land Universal is in the process of acquiring. I read the article though, and it does make the Nintendo partnership a bit more strategic. Replacing Curious George with Mario and Luigi would be a less than exciting prospect, but using Mario, Link, Seamus, Mega Man, Pokemon, and World of Warcraft to usher in a new era of Universal Orlando? Now that would make sense. But I'll take a wait-and-see attitude.

If Disney were REALLY smart, they would be overpaying to buy up the surrounding land, preventing Universal from ever sniffing the chance at expansion.

Edited: July 26, 2015, 10:05 AM

They may spread the Nintendo properties over two parks like Harry Potter. Perhaps the more children's characters will be at USF and the other characters will go to the third park with the other video game company Blizzard. What an interesting development and it sort of takes theme parks in a different direction. Disney's theme park ideas are stale. It works well for Disney, but not so well for competitors.

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