Universal Orlando buys another 101 acres for theme-park expansion

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Universal Orlando has purchased another 101 acres for its new theme park projects in Orlando, adding to the 475 it has already assembled.

Universal closed on the purchase for $27.5 million on Thursday, a source close to the deal said. The new acreage is along Sand Lake Road, giving Universal a new major road frontage for its expansions.

The land is adjacent to the $130 million purchase Universal made in December 2015, north of Universal Boulevard and west of Destination Parkway. The latest acquisition gives Universal more than 570 acres to work with for expansions, which is multiple times larger than the property it currently owns and operates as Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure, and Volcano Bay.

Currently in Orlando, Universal has built out its existing developments almost completely, after tearing down the former Wet n’ Wild water park and planning two large hotels there. Observers say Universal wants to compete more fully with Disney World in Orlando, by having so many attractions that more visitors come to Orlando only to stay on Universal properties.

There’s been a lot of speculation about what kind of new attractions Universal is planning, but Universal hasn’t provided any detail for the properties. Comcast execs say they have a lot of ideas on how to use the land although no firm plans. A Nintendo-themed area is also coming to Orlando, Universal said in November, under a deal with the Japanese video-game giant.

Universal has an aggressive expansion plan. In 2015, executives told analysts that they want to open an attraction every year at each major location. Universal has parks in Orlando, Hollywood, Singapore and Japan. It also plans to open a park in Beijing.

There’s also litigation regarding the future of the 475 acres purchased in 2015 — a lawsuit attempting to block any new theme parks on the property. Georgia developer Stan Thomas is behind the suit in Orange County Circuit Court. He’s the man who once controlled the properties in the so-called Sand Lake Road Complex just south of Lockheed Martin’s plant.

The purchase of the 101-acre property was from a subsidiary of the Inland Real Estate Group, called IA Orlando Sand. It was also owned by a Universal-affiliated company at one time.

Under Thomas’ control, the property was green-lighted with entitlements for thousands of hotel rooms, mixed-use development and tourism attractions. After the Great Recession, Thomas’s company had lost much of the land in a foreclosure.

Universal recently filed a plan with Orange County to get approvals for 2,451 “overflow” parking spaces on vacant land it owns along Destination Parkway near Orange County Convention Center. Universal Orlando spokesman Tom Schroder said the company has nothing further to say about the parking spaces at this point.