Guess who's coming to Orlando? Seriously, guess. We have no idea

October 23, 2016, 7:01 PM · Is another big theme park company looking to build in Orlando? Rumors of Six Flags or Cedar Fair or someone building a new park in Central Florida appear as often as campaign commercials these days. But Richard Bilbao at the Orlando Business Journal — traditionally a solid source of news in the local business community — is reporting that a "top U.S. theme park operator" is looking at a 200-acre site on International Drive.

The OBJ reports that the park operator, with the help of international investors, is looking at the 100 acres plus of the Artegon Marketplace as well as the neighboring Acquasol sports complex property. That 78-acre parcel was the site of the proposed (and rejected) Orlando Thrill Park.

The neighborhood opposition that killed that proposal likely will try to block any new park on the site. So who would want to take on that challenge, not to mention the burden of trying to compete with Disney, Universal, and SeaWorld in the world's most crowded theme park market?

Let's start by eliminating that Big Three from consideration. Disney's not about to expand off its still-abundant property. Universal already has an expansion site on I-Drive. And SeaWorld needs to bolster its existing Orlando assets... and not mess around with a separate property miles away.

Who's left, then? If we define "top U.S. theme park operator" as a company that operates parks in the United States, rather than one headquartered in the U.S., that opens up Merlin Entertainments, which already has Legoland Florida in Winter Haven and operates the Orlando Eye and SeaLife Aquarium on I-Drive. Merlin's also the only operator outside of Disney and Universal to build a major successful park in the United States in the past 20 years. But what brand does Merlin have to bring to Orlando? Two hundred acres seems a bit much for a Dungeons property. Plus, the company's already working on another Legoland in Orange County, New York.

Let's move on, but don't forget those supposed international investors aiding the project. While Six Flags hasn't built a park on its own since Six Flags Over Mid-America (now Six Flags St. Louis) in 1971, it happily has licensed its name to parks now under construction in China and the United Arab Emirates. With international investors paying the bills, perhaps Six Flags would be willing to license its name to a foreign-built park in Orlando. Ditto for Cedar Fair.

Parques Reunidos and Herschend also might be willing to play under those terms. Herschend most recently operated a Dolly Parton's Dixie Stampede dinner show in Central Florida from 2003 to 2008 before selling the property for an expansion of the neighboring Orlando Vineland Premium Outlets mall.

And if we're willing to expand the definition of "theme park" to include water parks (which Universal seems eager to do), that adds another player to the mix — Schlitterbahn. With Universal closing Wet 'n Wild in favor of the more elaborately-themed Volcano Bay, opening in 2017, that opens some space in the Orlando market for a Wet 'n Wild-style thrill-focused water park, which is Schlitterbahn's expertise.

The Texas water park company is facing deep trouble these days, following the death of a boy on its Verruckt slide in Kansas last summer. But an infusion of foreign cash to bankroll an entry into the lucrative Orlando market might provide a cushion for whatever legal settlement/judgment and lost income the company will end up facing due to its role in the child's death.

Of course, all this talk could be yet another Florida real estate developer's attempt to create a straw man to bid up interest in their properties, with the help of an anonymously sourced local news article. Theme parks are a brutally capital intensive business, and while international investors might be eager to pour cash into growing and underdeveloped markets such as China and Dubai, entering the mature and competitive Orlando theme park market requires an entirely different level of financial courage.

Does Orlando need another theme/amusement/water park player? If so, which one?

Replies (31)

October 23, 2016 at 7:24 PM · 6 flags
October 23, 2016 at 7:33 PM · A theme park by Cedar Fair, modeled after Cedar Point, would be a GREAT addition to the Central Florida market!
October 23, 2016 at 7:34 PM · No, they dont need another. Not until they fix traffic issues that make it possible for the employees to get to these theme parks easily. Currently some employees are forced to leave 2 hours early and they only live a few miles away.
October 23, 2016 at 8:00 PM · That whole Artegon site is like a black hole that businesses vanish into, nothing at that location has ever worked. The only viable businesses there are the movie theater and Bass Pro Show, everything else leaves. Every time I go to the movies there, the space echoes with emptiness even when it's bustling at the Premium Outlets across the street.

Half the problem is the not so nice area right behind it, the other half is the competitive Orlando market. I can't see another water park here, we already have Blizzard Beach, Typhoon Lagoon and Aquatica with Volcano Bay opening late next spring. Fun Spot has rides and go karts less than a mile away and we sure don't need more shopping outlets. Maybe they should have razed it and built the soccer stadium there instead of downtown.

October 23, 2016 at 8:00 PM · Orlando definitely could use more competition no doubt to push the limits further for Disney and Universal. Real question can anyone really do it? Six Flags would change the landscape but again why would they put want to fight this battle? They already have dips on the Midwest including Texas, Missouri, Illinois/Wisconsin and not to mention they have Six Flags in Gerorgia. Merlin might be a possibility and would make the most sense with Legoland nearby but what would they build? Cedar Point now that's a possibility. I'm sure they would love to dip into the Disney/Universal market in Orlando since they already doing it in SoCal. So they already know how to compete and survive. It's gonna to be interesting in Orlando if any of these three major amusement companies decide to throw their hats in the ring regardless
October 23, 2016 at 11:35 PM · Now would be a pretty smart time for Cirque to expand from what they are doing in MEXICO.
October 23, 2016 at 11:50 PM · It's Wang Jianlin and Wanda building a park in Orlando to take the fight to Disney on its home turf.
October 24, 2016 at 12:57 AM · The Goddard Group is building a themepark/waterpark/resort with Cirque du Soleil in Mexico. There are no coasters but the park looks amazing and both Goddard and Cirque are investors. It would be a great addition.
Goddard is well known for building attractions and parks and Cirque is providing the acrobatics and their own personal flair to the park.
October 24, 2016 at 1:46 AM · I would love a Six Flags park. As an annual pass holder of both Walt Disney World and Six Flags it would give me something else to do on my WDW trips that wouldn't cost extra. I am also thinking of getting a Merlin annual tickets for all their attractions worldwide, Madame Tussauds, Seal Aquariums, the Orlando Eye and other. Merlin and Six Flags combined is less than my WDW annual pass and having all 3 would make a perfect Orlando vacation and if one of the three would buy Seaworld then I would be in heaven in Orlando.
October 24, 2016 at 4:34 AM · Can another park make in Orlando's crowded market? Maybe that's why Disney has not built the fifth. Remember that it's not only just Wet and Wild but Water Mainia and Splendid China in Kissimmee. And Boardwalk and Baseball (formerly Circus World) between Orlando and Lakeland closing. With declining gates at both Disney and Universal because of rising ticket prices. That a lot can no longer afford. I doubt that another park is a good investment for the Orlando area at this time. But maybe that is what is needed to keep Disney and Universal in check on future price increases. Time will tell.
October 24, 2016 at 7:18 AM · Build an entire theme park around Peanuts and Snoopy. There's plenty of unfulfilled potential with Snoopy and the gang.
October 24, 2016 at 7:59 AM · Maybe a park, water park and resort based off of Nickelodeon. The Nickelodeon themed hotel on International Drive lost the brand, maybe it was to free up a full Nickelodeon park and resort project? With a Nickelodeon theme park at Mall of America and another one planned in New Jersey, this could be a logical next move. They could even make it indoors, which would be an interesting/different move in Florida.
October 24, 2016 at 8:06 AM · The company that owns Doollywood and Silver Dollar City should buy it.
October 24, 2016 at 8:17 AM · Anon, I don't think Snoopy and the gang have the appeal they once did. That's an older fact, MetLife just dropped Snoopy as the spokesdog for their corporation feeling he has run his course.
October 24, 2016 at 8:17 AM · Anon, I don't think Snoopy and the gang have the appeal they once did. That's an older fact, MetLife just dropped Snoopy as the spokesdog for their corporation feeling he has run his course.
October 24, 2016 at 8:21 AM · Universal will buy it. That's my feeling. I could be wrong.
October 24, 2016 at 8:32 AM · My money is on Walley World. It's an untapped resource just waiting for the right development.

Can't wait for the family trip there...

October 24, 2016 at 10:24 AM · Is Schlitterbahn still trying to make the deal for a park work in Fort Lauderdale? In June, that mess headed back to court, and, IIRC, the Henry family can walk away from the contracts at some point this fall.

A waterpark would face the least neighborhood resistance and make more sense from a traffic perspective.

October 24, 2016 at 11:36 AM · Great Wolf Lodge
October 24, 2016 at 11:39 AM · Knots Berry Farm, they are going to expand outside California area.
October 24, 2016 at 11:46 AM · Great Wolf Lodge? The area is too "low rent" and could not support the original incarnation of the mall.

Again, I-drive from Sand Lake to Universal is, in a word, Craptacular, but hotels are cheap.

October 24, 2016 at 11:57 AM · @Sarah: That MetLife dropped Snoopy has nothing to do with theme parks. The association ran its course because it just did. Would you like Mickey and Minnie to sell Farmer's Insurance? They certainly could, but it won't have any effect on attending Disneyland. Snoopy is still very popular and the Peanuts are a fixture in the holidays with its television shows celebrating Halloween, Thanksgiving, and Christmas. Snoopy and Charlie Brown are also featured in Macy's Thanksgiving Parade. It's a Thanksgiving Tradition. Imagine hundreds of kids wanting to celebrate The Great Pumpkin, enjoy a Thanksgiving Dinner, and wishing a Merry Christmas with Snoopy and Charlie Brown. And don't forget Easter too.
October 24, 2016 at 12:12 PM · I read another article elsewhere that specified it was an American company and that the project is supposedly a theme park, waterpark, and hotel. Although the article suggested Herschend as the most likely choice (which does sound like someone who would be doing such a project), in my opinion Six Flags is the likely candidate.

Why Six Flags? To start with, Six Flags chain-wide had the second largest growth of any American theme park company last year, beaten only by Universal. Secondly, Six Flags is the only qualifying theme park operator that is currently constructing new parks. While current projects are in Asia, It is not unreasonable to think that they could be looking at another US project. Third, Six Flags offers a product that is very different from what currently exists in the Orlando market. Instead of highly immersive theming, extreme thrills reign supreme and a year of fun is sold for the price of a day at Disney. Lastly, Six Flags is a brand name that is recognized all across the United States, and will therefore attract both locals, who have heard of it but have never visited, and tourists, who own a season pass to their home park and can add a theme park day to their visit for free.

Now, obviously, taking a Six Flags park and plopping it down in the middle of Orlando probably wouldn't be a very good idea. However, if a new park were created from the ground up that had theming on par with a Busch Gardens park yet thrill rides that rivaled Magic Mountain and Great Adventure, I think there would be a solid market for that. Plus, Six Flags owns IP not present at the Florida parks and, well, IP is a big deal right now in the industry.

October 24, 2016 at 12:53 PM · Don't Universal and Six Flags both have the rights to Scooby Doo? How's that gonna work with both of them next to each other?
October 24, 2016 at 1:04 PM · The last time someone built a new park closed before the year was out. Good luck with that.
October 24, 2016 at 3:13 PM · James Trexen
October 24, 2016 at 12:53 PM · Don't Universal and Six Flags both have the rights to Scooby Doo? How's that gonna work with both of them next to each other?

I don't know shaggy, scooby dobby doo

No different to universal and Disney in Orlando I would guess.

October 24, 2016 at 10:18 PM · With regards to the two previous anonymous posts regarding Great Wolf Lodge, they are indeed coming to Orlando but not to I-Drive. They have bought 50 acres in Kissimmee near Walt Disney world to build what will be their biggest location to date.
October 25, 2016 at 4:21 AM · I could see Six Flags building a park in Orlando, maybe even at the expense of SFoGa, which has a relatively short operating schedule not to mention the the perceived crime/unruly clientel.
October 26, 2016 at 9:14 AM · Splendid China is coming back! Wanda is going to hit Disney where they make the most and invest the least
October 26, 2016 at 10:08 AM · Ok, that made me laugh!
October 26, 2016 at 8:27 PM · While I would love to see a Six Flags park in FL, they simply have too many issues with service, cleanliness, etc. Disney would bury them in a heartbeat.

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