Universal Upgrade: Under Construction

Universal Orlando Resort, now owned by Comcast, is investing heavily all thanks to a boy wizard named Harry Potter. The huge increase in cash flow from the Wizarding World of Harry Potter is practically forcing Comcast to spend even more money expanding the theme parks, also possibly saving them a lot of money in taxes in return. That means big things for the only theme parks within Orlando city limits which could translate into more Orlando jobs. In their “Year to be Here,” Universal sure is not holding back.

Universal Orlando (Photo courtesy: M. Cantone/WONO)

On Monday, Universal broke news that they will build Cabana Bay Beach Resort, an 1,800 room hotel becoming the fourth on-site hotel with partner Loews Hotels & Resorts. The new resort will open in 2014 as part of a much larger expansion in progress.

Guests have already discovered an upgraded Spiderman which brings the attraction back to life with refreshing and exciting enhancements. At City Walk, work continues on new docks and waterfront improvements and the new Hollywood Drive-In Mini Golf features “The Haunting of Ghostly Greens” and “Invaders from Planet Putt-Putt” courses with recent reviews calling them Orlando’s best nighttime mini golf. There’s also a new parade and nighttime water and movie show adding value for families to complete their days. Over the July 4th holiday week, Universal Studios also opened Despicable Me with much excitement and a Minion takeover.

Most exciting, of course, is the expansion of Harry Potter, phase II. With the closing of Jaws, a whole new world is coming soon and rumors and buzz speculate that the space is so large that it could be more than just Harry Potter, possibly a greater London themed-world. Amityville was huge after all; the Jaws ride needed a big space for that water ride. Permits have been filed for what appears to be two train stations and a connecting ride between both Universal Studios and Universal Islands of Adventure parks (think, Hogwarts Express).

But now more construction continues to spring up. Soundstage 44 was quickly demolished at the front of Universal Studios. This soundstage was former home to Murder, She Wrote Mystery Theatre from 1990-1996, then Hercules and Xena: Wizards of the Screen from 1997-1999. It had been mostly empty since then except for smaller exhibits and recently had a Shrek and Donkey meet-and-greet feature.

Since the Transformers attraction at Universal Hollywood is a big hit, many now speculate that this could be the new attraction replacing Soundstage 44. Based on newly filed rushed permits, the new attraction would open before the new Harry Potter expansion.

In recent years, Universal’s previous owners spent about $50 million annually, which was basically operating at a maintenance level. Now, Comcast is signaling it will spend at least $150 million a year on improvements for the next 5 years. That could mean more good times for families, vacationers, and locals – but it also could mean more jobs for Orlando residents in need.

In 2011, theme parks made up about 8% of NBC Universal’s total revenue, but made up 20% of its total operating cash flow, the second-largest revenue behind cable television. In the first quarter of this year, Universal’s parks had an operating cash flow of $157 million, which is 17% more than a year ago.



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