With theme parks still closed due to the coronavirus pandemic, and no clear road map to reopening them, Universal has had to stop construction on its next park in Florida. Gabrielle Russon and Stephen Hudak of the Orlando Sentinel report that construction is being paused on the new park, as Comcast will lose out on half a billion dollars in profits if the parks can’t reopen in the second quarter of 2020. With a second quarter return looking less and less likely, Universal’s parent company has had to delay the third gate to their Florida resort, pushing its opening from 2023 into 2024, according to Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings, the Sentinel reports.
Announced last year, Universal’s Epic Universe is rumored to launch immersive areas based on a variety of popular properties, from a new Harry Potter-related land devoted to Fantastic Beasts, to the American version of Super Nintendo World. Construction continued after the quarantine began and Universal’s other theme parks closed, but with Universal’s first quarter theme park revenue dropping by over 30% from 2019 to 2020, Comcast made the call to put the project on ice for the moment.
According to the Sentinel, this is a momentary setback. Tom Schroder, a Universal spokesman, told the paper that this decision is “about timing only. Our confidence in our business, our communities and our industry is as strong as ever.”
This isn’t a surprise, of course; with how the pandemic has progressed, and with the theme park business being inherently at odds with the kinds of measures needed to prevent spread, it was clear that it would be very difficult for Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure to reopen soon. And with losses from those closures mounting every day, it was only inevitable for ongoing construction to be put on the backburner. It’s only surprising that Universal took this long—Disney halted its projects at Disney World over a month ago, the week after the parks closed. Hopefully this doesn’t impact Universal’s longterm plans for Epic Universe and the rest of its theme parks—what we’ve seen of Super Nintendo World looks fantastic, and it’d be a shame if this crisis hobbled its potential.