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Harry Gets a Theme Park

Holy Hogwarts! Harry Potter is finally getting some theme-park magic. Time Warner (NYSE: TWX  ) and Universal Orlando announced that they would be opening The Wizardly World of Harry Potter within Universal's Islands of Adventure theme park in less than three years.

The 20-acre "theme park within a theme park" will allow guests to stroll down the streets of Hogsmeade Village, walk the halls of Hogwarts, and explore the Forbidden Forest. Eclectic eateries, mystical shops, and three attractions will anchor the new area between the park's Jurassic Park and Lost Continent themed lands.

It's about time, really. I was lamenting how the slow development of the park -- owned by Blackstone Group and the General Electric (NYSE: GE  ) -led NBC Universal -- was leaving a dent on attendance last month.

The theme park opened with so much potential in 1999, only to let cobwebs gather in the competitive Central Florida hospitality market, where new attractions are the lifeblood of successful parks. Absent an E-ticket addition over the past eight years, the turnstile clicks began to slow. Attendance has fallen every single year since the park entertained 6.3 million guests in 2004.

"Things may change this year, with $120 million earmarked for capital improvements," I wrote last month. "It would be a shocker if a major addition to Islands of Adventure weren't announced soon."

I also mentioned the Potter attraction scuttlebutt last month, but I didn't think an announcement would come so soon. Unfortunately for the park, Hogwarts won't start enrolling guests until late 2009 or early 2010.

This gives neighboring parks -- like Disney (NYSE: DIS  ) and Anheuser-Busch's (NYSE: BUD  ) Sea World Orlando -- time to introduce marquee rides and shows to keep guests coming back to their gated attractions. Sure, the parks will benefit in the near term from the influx of tourists who try to hit as many parks as possible during their stays. However, the industry knows how Islands of Adventure withered away as Disney World and Sea World Orlando expanded their offerings in recent years.

Between now and then, Potter fans can only hope that next month's final book in the series and the next few years of related films will carry them through until Hogwarts becomes as real as possible.

Disney and Time Warner are Motley Fool Stock Advisor recommendations. Anheuser-Busch is an Inside Value pick.  

Longtime Fool contributor Rick Munarriz enjoys taking his family on coaster treks over the summer. He's heading off to Orlando with the family later this month. He owns shares in Disney. He is also part of the Rule Breakers newsletter research team, seeking out tomorrow's ultimate growth stocks a day early. The Fool has a disclosure policy.

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