ORLANDO, Fla. - After months of speculation following the company's repurchase of a hefty plot of land, Universal announced plans Thursday to launch a new theme park called Epic Universe.
During an announcement at the Orange County Convention Center on Thursday morning, Comcast Chairman and CEO Brian Roberts said that the park and surrounding developments would be the company's single-largest investment yet in its theme park division and in Florida overall.
Comcast owns NBCUniversal, including its theme parks, the Universal film studio, NBC's broadcasting operations as well as Telemundo, the Orlando-based Golf Channel, along with Comcast's core cable business including its Xfinity products.
"I don’t think there’s been an announcement like this in over 20 years," Roberts said.
Universal theme park CEO Tom Williams says “Universal’s Epic Universe” will be largest, most expensive project and best of all their theme parks around the world. @UniversalORL @news6wkmg pic.twitter.com/JSez1vtItB — Troy Campbell (@TCampbellNews6) August 1, 2019
The new theme park and resort complex will be located within a 750-acre site that is roughly the same size as Universal's existing main property, which includes two theme parks, CityWalk, Volcano Bay, and six resort hotels.
Epic Universe will be a few miles from that original property, and will be built south of Sand Lake Road and east of Universal Boulevard.
Universal Orlando has owned this property before. It was part of an 1,800 acre plot of land purchased from Lockheed Martin in 1998. Universal sold all of that land in 2003, then repurchased much of the acreage in 2017 and 2018 ahead of today's announcement.
The new park is expected to bring an overwhelming amount of new employment opportunities to Central Florida.
Roberts said with a new theme park, entertainment, shops and resorts, the expansion will add about 14,000 jobs to the existing 25,000 team members, making Florida the state with the most employees in all of Comcast and NBCUniversal.
Roberts also announced those new jobs will come with a starting wage of at least $15 per hour, up from the $12 per hour minimum Universal currently offers. Walt Disney World agreed to phase in a $15 per hour minimum for its workers last year.
Universal Orlando currently employees 25,000 people and the additional team members hired as part of Epic Universe will include high-tech jobs and culinary and other specialized positions, according to Universal Orlando.
The new park is expected to contribute $11.5 billion to the Florida economy, according to an economic impact study conducted for Universal by by University of Central Florida economics professor Sean Snaith.
Work has already begun on the massive project but Universal executives did not provide a timeline for an opening date.
Universal Parks and Resorts Chief Executive Officer Thomas Williams said Universal is working to protect the wetlands on the property, including the Shingle Creek Watershed, which connects to the Florida Everglades.
“We look forward to Universal’s continued contribution to our state’s economic growth and development. And we are especially grateful for Universal’s partnership in improving Shingle Creek, which plays a critical role in serving the Everglades," said Gov. Ron DeSantis, who also attended the announcement.
Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said the county is working with Universal to streamline permitting to expand the International Drive area.
Universal is investing $160 million to extend Kirkman Road into the area where the new park is, which Demings said will improve traffic flow in the area.
Williams withheld many details about the park itself, simply saying Epic Universe will allow guests an opportunity to become immersed in worlds inspired by books, movies and TV shows.
“I’d love to tell you themes because they will blow you away,” he said.
Universal Orlando said in a news release that Epic Universe will take park guests "on a journey where beloved stories expand into vibrant lands – and where that journey is as much a part of their adventure as the ultimate destination."
"Our vision is a big one. We want to create a level of experience that, frankly, forever changes the theme park landscape as you know it today," Roberts said.
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