Things are heating up in Central Florida, and not just because Comcast's (CMCSA 0.76%) (NASDAQ: CMCSK) Universal Orlando has a fire-breathing dragon attracting tourists eager to check out last year's expansion of The Wizarding World of Harry Potter.
Yesterday was a day that will ultimately delight fans of thrill rides and theme parks in the Orlando market. Orange County commissioners unanimously approved the proposed Skyplex development that will be anchored by a record-breaking 501-foot roller coaster. The complex won't open until 2018, and, naturally, a lot can change between now and then.
Comcast was vocal in its dissent for the Skyplex complex leading up to the commission vote, and it seemed like an odd stance for a theme park operator to take publicly. Skyplex will go up far enough from the Universal Orlando resort that it shouldn't be a visible distraction.
However, then we found out the real reason why Comcast was likely so adamant in trying to block the project. A Universal Orlando lobbyist told two of the commissioners that Universal Orlando has negotiated an option to purchase parcels of land totaling 474 acres just south of both Skyplex and Universal Orlando.
It's no surprise that Comcast has its sights set on beating Disney (DIS -0.12%) as the travel destination of choice. It has been expanding its theme parks aggressively, and that has recently included dramatically expanding its overnight guest capacity by building new hotels and an on-site water park that will open by the summer of 2017. It appears to be working, seeing as how Universal Orlando's theme parks have been growing their attendance at a much higher rate than Disney's iconic resort.
|Universal Studios Florida||6,000,000||8,263,000||37.7%|
|Islands of Adventure||5,300,000||8,141,000||53.6%|
Universal obviously isn't going to be discussing plans for tracts of land it has yet to actually purchase. However, with the current resort in the process of being built to capacity, it only makes sense for dreams of a third theme park and more to go up somewhere else.
The location isn't ideal. It's roughly two miles away from the existing resort, with various area hotels and attractions -- including the now-approved Skyplex -- separating Universal Orlando from the new land. However, since the new parcels aren't bordering a high school and a residential district, it's more than likely that Comcast's new turf will not be limited to building thrill rides that are capped at 200 feet the way they are at Universal Orlando. That should come as welcome news to fans of gargantuan coasters, but it's something that should worry Disney. The House of Mouse has been playing it safe in recent years, and if Universal Orlando is able to build three, if not four, parks -- and even more on-site hotels -- it will be that much easier to keep weeklong visitors away from Disney.
A big coaster will soon be going up in Orlando, but an even bigger theme park battle between Comcast and Disney is about to get even more intense.