Universal pauses construction on new Epic Universe theme park amid coronavirus pandemic

Officials say parks will remain shuttered through May 31

ORLANDO, Fla. – Comcast CEO and Chairman Brian Roberts announced in a conference call Thursday morning that as the coronavirus pandemic continues to shutter theme parks, Universal Orlando Resort will pause construction on its Epic Universe project.

“We remain very confident that the parks business will generate healthy returns over the long term,” Roberts said during a conference call. “Nonetheless, we’ve decided to pause construction of Orlando’s fourth gate or epic universe at this early stage. While we focus on the immediate challenges that COVID-19 presents, while the final stage of the work continued full force for Super Nintendo World Japan, which is expected to open later this year, and universal Beijing which remains on schedule to open in 2021.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said in news conference Thursday that he had been briefed by park officials on what the delay in construction would mean for the county.

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“I was contacted yesterday by senior officials at Universal and what they said to me was their overall construction project delayed by a year, however they are going to continue with 30 plus million dollars worth of construction underway at this time,” Demings said. “In terms of impact on our economy, there will still be robust construction activity centered around that development itself.”

When asked about what the current construction underway entailed, Demings said it is related to road construction and site development that all takes place before vertical buildings can be established.

Universal Orlando was shut down on March 15 to prevent the spread of the novel virus, and has since extended that closure to at least May 31; park officials initially planned to only close the park through the end of March.

In October, Comcast officials said the new park could open as soon as 2023 and was slated to create over 14,000 permanent new jobs, which would include a base pay rate of $15 an hour.

“At this point, all of our theme parks are closed, and we do not know when they will reopen to help you understand the impact of park closures,” Roberts said. "For the parks to remain close the entirety of the second quarter, we would expect to incur and even a loss of parks of roughly $500 million in the quarter, the parks team is bouncing near term financial discipline, with maximizing the long term value of this business. "

It is now unclear when construction on the new theme park may fully resume and how that will affect its opening date.

“If our economy recovers faster than any of us expect, then I think [Universal] has the creative allowance that they could advance that construction even faster," Demings said. "If we are slow to recover, who knows, that date my slide further to the future.”

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