Theme Park University reader Lachie writes in to ask, “I have heard a lot of rumors regarding the announcement of Universal’s fourth gate. Some say it will happen when Disney has their press events from Toy Story Land. You’ve said that announcement is probably a year away. What gives?”
Great question! Admittedly, I don’t pay a lot of attention to rumor cycles as they’ll drive you crazy if you try to keep up with them. However, I can speak for logic and reason. There are several hurdles Universal needs to overcome before they are ready to announce their fourth gate (technically the third is Universal’s Volcano Bay). Not to mention, it would tick a lot of groups off if they were to jump the gun and and announce sometime around June 30, 2018, when Toy Story Land opens at Disney’s Hollywood Studios.
As you can see from the map above, there are still several pockets of land scattered around the property across Sand Lake Road and I-4 that Universal does not own. Those sections of land are still mostly untouched pieces of property with owners who have held onto it for several years. Basically waiting for an opportunity like this. Eventually, the hope is (for some) that either Lockheed Martin or some sort of tourist related business are willing to snatch them up. Some even hold out to make sure it isn’t developed to tourism. The point is, it’s complicated. However, Universal can’t actually build what they want to build on that space with the land it currently possesses.
Second, while Universal did file for plans with Orange County to start initial grading and preparation for the land it currently owns, that’s not the same thing as showing the actual plans to the county and having them approved. Yes, the land they currently own has been properly zoned for touirsm. However, height, noise levels, and the effects it has on local neighborhoods, traffic and even surrounding businesses all get factored in. Do I think the fourth gate will get approval? Of course. And so does Universal. However, it may have to give some concessions on various things like widening certain roads or making infrastructure ready for the massive crowds that will be headed to an area that is largely untraveled by tourists currently.
It’s also worth mentioning that I don’t believe the actual plans are quite ready to be made public just yet. From everything I can gather, the master plan for the new park (and property) has been under development for well over a year. As with previous parks, this work has been farmed out to another design firm outside of Universal Creative who have a larger expertise in master planning. While I’d get in trouble if I mentioned it publicly, (because literally, everyone in the theme park businesses reads Theme Park University) you can figure it out based on who’s done master planning for Universal in the past.
Finally, Theme Park University has made it pretty well known that Nintendo (specifically Mario Kart and Donkey Kong) will be featured as its own land in the park. It is my understanding that this will be the only non-Universal franchise located within the fourth park. As the plans for not only Mario Kart and Donkey Kong are already set in stone (they are already into heavy construction at Universal Studios Japan), the details of Pokemon headed to Universal Studios Florida and Zelda going into Islands of Adventure need to go through the approval process for all of these new projects. How the characters are represented in the park, how they are marketed, what position they have in the park, etc all has to be ironed out and agreed on by both Nintendo and Universal and frankly, that takes time. Since Pokemon and Zelda are slated to open before Universal’s fourth gate, those approvals tend to get pushed ahead in the process.
In short? It’s complicated. These things take time and Universal Orlando announcing the fourth park this summer would be putting the cart far ahead of the horse. Now what I can tell you is a central theme, specific lands, and even a few key attractions have gone through the approval process. We will get to all that in the future, I promise. For now, I just wanted to take a peek behind the curtain and just showcase the less than glamorous part of building a new theme park. It’s not all about cool rides and immersive environments. There are a lot of logistical (and frankly non-fun) hurdles you’ve got to overcome until you get to the fun stuff. Your thoughts?
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