Today it was confirmed that the Universal Orlando Resort has purchased the land on which the Wet ’n Wild water park sits, in addition to several parcels of surrounding land currently vacant or occupied by warehouses. No official explanation or insight as to the use of this additional land has been given by Universal at this point. Although Universal has owned the Wet ’n Wild water park, itself, for some time, it (like the park’s previous owners) had been leasing the land from the Southwest Land Company, paying an annual premium for the prime International Drive location’s continued use.
Universal Orlando has purchased more than 50 acres of land under and around the Wet ’n Wild water park, giving itself more flexibility for future growth.
The giant theme-park resort, which has been rapidly expanding under new owner Comcast Corp., paid $30.9 million for the properties, as implied by documentary stamp tax payments.
Universal would not say Thursday whether it has any plans to re-theme or expand Wet ’n Wild in any way.
“We are pleased with Wet ’n Wild as a component of our business and this purchase was a natural step for us,” Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said. “Beyond that, we don’t discuss our business transactions.”
Universal already owned Wet ’n Wild, which sits just across Interstate 4 from its primary holdings, which include two theme parks, a shopping district and three hotels. But it had been leasing the underlying land from Southwest Land Co. of Newport Beach, Calif.
The sale was first reported by Parkscope.net, a blog devoted to theme-park news and rumors.
Orange County records show that Universal bought eight parcels in all from Southwest, totaling about 52 acres. In addition the land under the water park, its administration building and its parking lot, the sale included several smaller parcels that are currently vacant or being used for warehouses.
Wet ’n Wild drew a little more than 1.2 million visitors in 2012, according to estimates by consulting firm AECOM, That places it well behind competing water parks in Orlando, including the Walt Disney Co.’s Typhoon Lagoon (2.1 million) and Blizzard Beach (1.9 million) and SeaWorld Entertainment Inc.’s Aquatica (1.5 million).
The purchase fits with an aggressive growth strategy that Comcast has laid out for Universal Orlando, where attendance and profits have soared since the mid-2010 opening of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter in Universal’s Islands of Adventure. Comcast wants to make the resort a true multi-day destination similar to the Walt Disney World and is currently spending hundreds of millions of dollars to expand Universal Studios Florida, including with the just-opened Transformers: The Ride — 3D.
Comcast and Universal are also moving deeper into the hotel business in hopes of capturing more of their visitors’ total vacation spending. A top Comcast executive noted earlier this month that Universal currently has about 2,400 on-site rooms, which he called only “a fraction of our competitor.” That was a reference to Disney World, which has roughly 25,000 hotel rooms and time-share suites across its vast property.
Universal and partner Loews Hotels and Resorts are now building a fourth on-property hotel: the 1,800-room Cabana Bay Beach Resort, which is scheduled to open as soon as January. But more hotel rooms are likely on the way.
“We have 2,400 hotel rooms today; we probably should have 10,000,” Steve Burke, the chief executive officer of Comcast-owned NBCUniversal, told analysts at a conference last fall. “Hotel rooms are strategically important because if people stay in your hotels, they spend an extra day in your theme park.”
There have been rumors in recent years that Universal’s land lease for Wet ’n Wild was close to expiring. That had fueled speculation that Universal might have to move Wet ’n Wild or build a new water park on its own land, closer to its existing theme parks and hotels.