Construction on Universal Orlando’s next theme park, Epic Universe, will be put on hold during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We remain very confident that the parks business will generate healthy returns over the long term,” said Brian Roberts, chairman and CEO of Universal’s parent company, Comcast, on its first quarter earnings call Thursday. “Nonetheless, we’ve decided to pause construction of Orlando’s fourth gate, Epic Universe, at this early stage.”
Universal considers Epic Universe its fourth theme park, counting the Volcano Bay water park as its third. Under traditional industry definitions, Epic Universe would be counted as the resort’s third theme park after Islands of Adventure and Universal Studios Florida.
The project was confirmed last year and scheduled for a 2023 opening. While Roberts didn’t mention a specific delay, Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said construction on Epic Universe “is going to be delayed by a year,” though it’s not clear if that means the opening date will need to be pushed back.
“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 may slide further to the future.”
The spread of the new strain of coronavirus forced the closure of Universal Orlando in mid-March, while Universal Studios Japan has been shuttered since late February. Unsurprisingly, this led to steep drops in the theme park division’s revenue (down 32 percent compared to the first quarter of 2019) and earnings (down 85 percent).
If the company’s theme parks remain closed throughout the entire second quarter, Comcast estimates it will lose $500 million. Universal Orlando is, in fact, scheduled to remain closed precisely that long, but Roberts cautioned that the company does not know when its theme parks will reopen.
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