Photo by Chad Sparkes/Flickr
After years of legal fights, last week Universal Orlando finally secured
the rights to develop a theme park on its Lockheed property, while also securing hundreds of acres more.
This property south of Kirkman, east of Universal Boulevard and north of the Beachline is now nearly twice the size of their current resort. With this much land, there are numerous things that Universal can do. The majority of the focus has been on the rumored new theme park
that’s very likely to open on the site, but it's likely that this will only occupy a fifth or so of the acreage.
Image via Universal Orlando
While transportation between the current resort, the former Wet ’n Wild property (where the Endless Summer resort
is currently under construction) and the southern Lockheed property is still very much an unknown, the internal transportation system within the Lockheed property will likely be a boat system similar to the one found at the current Universal Orlando resort.
Near the eastern edge of the property is Shingle Creek, the headwaters of the Everglades. The southern property has numerous retention ponds and other swamp-like areas already on it. Significant construction is likely planned for the site, as even more retention areas will be required. Some of that retention area may include lakes or other water features inside the new theme park, but much of it will likely be outside of the park itself.
Plans developed for the site
under former owner Stan Thomas, when the site was going to be known as the Village of Imagine, called for a water taxi system that used the retention pond areas. This is the same idea as Disney’s Crescent Lake or Margaritaville Orlando’s water taxi system. It’s very likely Universal will keep these plans in place for the new development.
Image via Hotel-Online.com
Image of the former Village of Imagine Resort on the property now repurchased by Universal Orlando. The Las Palmeras by Hilton Grand Vacations tower, the only resort built as part of the Imagine complex, can be seen in the middle right of the image. The OCCC can be seen in the top right.
The original plan
, developed by Vivendi Universal before they sold the property to Stan Thomas, called for 10,000 hotel rooms with another 700 timeshare units. Some of that original land is now owned by other parties, but it’s a safe bet that Universal will be looking to maximize their land holdings with hotels and possibly timeshare units.
In 2013, NBCUniversal President and CEO Steve Burke stated that the resort could hold upward of 15,000 hotel rooms, and that was before talks of the new theme park. Currently, the Universal Orlando Resort has 9,000 hotel rooms open or currently under construction.
It’s highly likely that the southern property will see thousands of hotel rooms added across numerous resorts. Some of those resorts may open well before the expected 2023/2024 opening of the new theme park.
Along with the 10,000 hotel rooms, the previous plans also called for 2 million square feet of retail space. A shopping district that’s 150,000 square feet larger than the Florida Mall isn’t likely, especially considering that Universal now owns less land than before, but a retail-heavy entertainment complex has been rumored for the site since Universal began the process of repurchasing it. What many have billed as CityWalk 2.0
, the new retail development will likely pull cues from Disney Springs, I-Drive 360 and CityWalk with a mix of retail, specialty dining and entertainment offerings. The entertainment may include a VR experience similar to "The Void" found at Disney Springs and an escape room.
Universal has already begun developing some of Lockheed land for surface parking
. In the coming years, they’ll likely move more operations and offices to the southern property. Currently, Universal rents office and warehouse space throughout Orlando, stretching from warehouses near the airport to offices in Dr. Phillips. Most, if not all, of those warehouses and offices will be moved to new buildings on the property. Many of the backstage areas at the current resort will likely be moved to the southern property as well, giving the current parks even more area to expand.
Sitting just across the street from the Orange County Convention Center, one of the largest and busiest convention centers in the western hemisphere, the new property is ideal for convention uses. Many of the resorts near the Lockheed property have large convention centers of their own and most of the nearby attractions, like TopGolf and Andretti, are designed with convention groups in mind.
Speculation around Universal’s plans for their property have included a boutique secondary park
that would be heavily used for special events, similar to how Diagon Alley and other areas of Universal are often rented out to private groups.
Another option is a large convention center on the property. Universal already has three convention areas at the current resort, but their distance from the Orange County Convention Center, size and age could be a deterrent for certain groups. Plus, by adding convention space at the new site, the current convention space could be redone as additional hotel rooms or other items more desirable for that location.
With talk of hotels opening on the new property as soon as 2022 and with the new theme park expected to open soon after that, Universal will need to move forward with county approvals for the property quickly. Once those approvals begin, we should have a much more concrete idea of what Universal plans to do with its newly acquired land.
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