'Sesame Street,' SeaWorld plan on building more theme parks

New land also coming to SeaWorld Orlando

ORLANDO, Fla. – Muppets fans are going to have more places at which to ask the question, "Can you tell me how to get to Sesame Street?"

SeaWorld Entertainment and the nonprofit organization behind "Sesame Street" announced Thursday that they are expanding their partnership to build another theme park by 2021, and possibly add more U.S. parks in the years beyond.

SeaWorld and Sesame Workshop are extending their partnership of almost four decades through 2031.

During that time, SeaWorld will build a second Sesame Place theme park to complement its existing location outside Philadelphia. It has not been determined where the new park will be located.

"We know that the magic of theme parks gives families a unique and powerful way to experience and delight in the 'Sesame Street' characters," said Jeffrey D. Dunn, CEO of Sesame Workshop. "Building more Sesame Place theme parks will enable us to connect with even more families and provide funding that supports our nonprofit mission."

"We share Sesame's goal of educating and entertaining generations of children, and the extension of our partnership furthers SeaWorld's mission to provide guests with experiences that matter," said Joel Manby, president and CEO of SeaWorld Entertainment Inc. "We are thrilled to be able to grow the presence of Sesame Place theme parks in the U.S. and help our company diversify its brand portfolio and expand into new areas."

SeaWorld also will open a "Sesame Street" land in its SeaWorld Orlando by fall 2022. It will "replace and enhance" the Happy Harbor children's area at the park, officials said.

"I think in making these moves they're taking a big step down the path to sort of reinventing the company and doing it around a well-established and beloved set of characters," tourism and economics expert Sean Snaith, a professor at the University of Central Florida, said. 

SeaWorld has been struggling with falling attendance in the wake of protests over its treatment of its killer whales, as highlighted in the 2013 documentary "Blackfish." Attendance in 2016 was down nearly 10 percent from 2012, and SeaWorld announced layoffs last year and in 2014 in response.

Snaith said SeaWorld is taking a page from other theme parks' books and capitalizing on well-known characters and franchises to attract more guests, both young and old.

"We've seen in theme parks in the area, if you have a successful character, a successful franchise, that this can really be leveraged into financial success for theme parks, whether it's Legoland, Harry Potter or Star Wars franchise, 'Sesame Street,' I think, is just another attraction in the region's tourism portfolio," Snaith said.

Even though it will be a few years before the attraction opens, locals and tourists said they can't wait to check out the new land.

"I think it's going to be pretty good for the smaller children," tourist Todd Smith said.

"That's what I grew up with, so I'm really excited," Coy Byrd said.

Byrd said he's excited to bring his 2-year-old daughter to the new land. He also hopes it will bring more people to his business, Ginter's Ice Cream Shop, which is located right across the street from the park.

"We're hoping they can bring in as many people as they can and we'll get a little trickle and make a little bit of money for myself," Byrd said.

Snaith said this is a big step for the park in "recovering and rebuilding."

"They need to sort of re-forge who they are and what they offer, holding true to their history and keeping some of the other sea-related attractions there, but building and expanding with 'Sesame Street' is a way to replace what they've been forced to give up," Snaith said.

SeaWorld's current licensing agreement with Sesame Street had been set to expire in 2021.

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