Universal Orlando’s Epic Universe theme park is dormant, not dead, if comments from NBCUniversal CEO Jeff Shell are any indication.
At a virtual conference Tuesday organized by UBS, Shell was asked about the status of plans to expand the Orlando resort to a new gate.
“To put billions of dollars of capital in the ground when you have such uncertainty about when and how the theme park is going to come back, we thought it was not prudent. So at the moment, we’ve paused it and we’ll continue to evaluate it over time,” Shell said. “At some point, we intend to build that park.”
After being announced by Universal in August 2019, the project was officially delayed in April, weeks after the pandemic forced theme parks around the U.S. to close. Layoffs throughout 2020 have greatly impacted Universal Creative, the division responsible for designing its theme parks, leading to an expectation within the industry and fan community that Epic Universe plans will be dramatically altered in the future.
Exactly when the project is restarted will depend on how quickly guests return to Universal parks. In spite of the COVID-19 pandemic surges seen around the country, Shell said it’s encouraging that Universal Orlando is more frequently seeing its parks hit its COVID-restricted maximum capacity.
He also mentioned that the parks are capped at 35 percent of their normal maximum capacity — the same restriction being used by Disney — and noted that “when you factor in all the distancing and the protocols, you really can’t put more than 35 percent.”
Shell hyped Universal’s post-pandemic projects, including 2021 openings such as Universal Studios Beijing park and Super Nintendo World at Universal Studios Japan. He even mentioned that Nintendo attractions are under construction at the still-closed Universal Studios Hollywood, even though Universal had not previously acknowledged that the Hollywood expansion was underway.
“We also have a smaller version of Nintendo that we’re building here in Hollywood, too, that I can see out my window right now,” Shell said.
What may help Universal park’s recovery in the long run — besides the obvious things like successful COVID-19 vaccines and a return of international travel — will be post-pandemic desires that make theme parks very attractive.
“I think people are going through, there’s going to be a bit like the Roaring ‘20s effect, where you’re not going to want to be at home anymore, right?” Shell said. “At least for a period of time, the idea of sitting at home, in your apartment on a Friday night, watching Netflix, is going to be less appealing than it was before this. I think people are going to want to leave their house, whether it’s to go to a sporting event, or a concert or a restaurant, or hopefully a theme park, and certainly to the movie theater.”
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