Universal Orlando's next theme park is official, many fans want the answer to the next question about Universal's Epic Universe — when will it open?Now that
Universal Parks chairman Tom Williams declined to provide an answer, but last week's Epic Universe press conference at the Orange County Convention Center left us several clues.
If you are wondering why Universal chose to hold a press conference to which it invited only about a dozen news outlets (including Theme Park Insider) at the convention center rather than at its own property, that's because the corner of the convention center where the press conference took place overlooks the Epic Universe construction site. At the press conference, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings announced that the county would be opening a permitting office at the convention center to serve the Epic Universe construction project.
Having the ability to obtain building permits on site, rather than having inspectors come from downtown, should help accelerate the construction process. Previous permits detailed the site plan for the project, which will include a theme park and surface parking lot, as well as the hotels, shopping, and dining that Comcast CEO Brian Roberts said at the press conference that the Epic Universe development would offer. Site prep work is well underway, though much remains to be done, including the extension of Kirkman Road to Universal Boulevard, a project for which Universal is kicking in $160 million to make happen.
So with work underway, how fast can Universal get this theme park done? The resort earned its reputation for banging out construction projects when it cleared the site for, then built, its Transformers ride in Universal Studios Florida in less than a year. But that was a project with existing plans and blueprints. Fans noted that Universal did not reveal any attraction plans or line-ups at the Epic Universe press conference. Could that be because Universal does not have those plans completed yet?
Universal Creative has been adding and shuffling personnel recently, but it also is working on the Universal Studios Beijing project, which is tipped for an early 2021 opening. All this suggests that Universal might not yet be ready to go vertical right away on a bunch of new theme park attractions in Epic Universe. Yes, Universal can work fast — especially with on-site permitting — but that's when all of its plans are in place. If the design of Epic Universe remains work in progress, fans should adjust their expectations for when this park might open.
So let's see what those expectations are right now, shall we? There's zero chance that a miracle occurs and Universal embarks on the fastest major theme park construction project in history by completing Epic Universe next year. So that's not an option. But with site work underway and local government clearing the decks to make this project happen, it's equally unlikely that Epic Universe languishes in development hell for something like seven or eight years... or more.
That gives us a window for our consideration. The original Universal Orlando theme park, Universal Studios Florida, took four years from site prep and press conference to its opening — from 1986 to 1990. The resort expansion that added CityWalk and Islands of Adventure came together in just over two years, but Universal was building those on its own parking lots. Epic Universe stands on a new site for Universal, one with water protection requirements. That complicates things beyond what Universal faced in building Islands of Adventure.
What we don't know for certain is how far along Universal is with its internal planning for the resort. As we saw with the "Fantastic Worlds" name, what leaks from Universal does not always equate to what ultimately happens. If Universal is still working on its basic plans for attractions, then you should add time to an estimated opening date. But if Universal has its plans ready and simply is refusing to share them, this project might happen faster than one might expect.
As for why Universal would hide its plans, I have one name for you: Michael Eisner. Though Disney flat-out refutes the story, it is gospel belief within Universal that Eisner saw the plans for Universal Studios Florida when he was the head of Paramount. Universal officials to this day believe that's why Eisner green-lit plans for what was then Disney-MGM Studios at Walt Disney World when he took over at Disney, to get what Universal charged was a copy of a Universal theme park open in the Orlando market before Universal's park could debut.
Whether that story is true or not doesn't matter. That's what Universal believes — which one is reason why Universal Creative team members tend to be way tighter about leaks than their counterparts over at Walt Disney Imagineering. But while Universal can control what its employees do, it loses control of its plans once it has to file for public permits and contractors begin their work. With that process beginning, we soon will get a much more clear picture of when Epic Universe will be ready to welcome its first visitors.
But for now, all we can do is guess.Tweet
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