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Universal Parks & Resorts National Expansion Includes New Regional Theme Park in Dallas

Theme Park Operator Also Plans To Open Permanent Haunted House Concept in Las Vegas

Universal Parks & Resorts is planning to open its first U.S. theme park outside of California and Florida in the Dallas area in a major expansion at a time when other players in the industry are struggling.

Universal, the theme park arm of Comcast NBCUniversal, plans to build the new Texas park on 97 acres in the fast-growing city of Frisco, Texas, north of downtown Dallas. The theme park operator is also adding a year-round haunted house concept at Area 15 in Las Vegas.

The new attractions in Nevada and Texas add to Universal's U.S. holdings, which include Universal Studios Hollywood and Universal Orlando Resort. The brand also has theme parks in Asia and Spain.

Other theme park operators are hurting financially. Disney's bottom line was recently hit by Hurricane Ian, with the company currently in cost-cutting mode. Meanwhile, Arlington, Texas-based Six Flags Entertainment has been dealing with its own financial struggles as its new CEO seeks to enact a new strategic plan.

Universal's proposed park in Frisco is expected to be smaller than a typical Universal theme park and be what it calls a first-of-its-kind theme park for families with young children, officials said. The park is planned on a tract east of the Dallas North Tollway and north of Panther Creek Parkway and Universal recently purchased the land, the company said. A portion of the acreage has been earmarked for an adjacent themed 300-room hotel, with additional land to expand.

Details about the land purchase and a proposed timeline of construction for the proposed park were not disclosed.

The North Texas city is the "perfect place" to kick off this new theme park concept, said Page Thompson, president of new ventures at Universal, in a statement.

"We think North Texas is the perfect place to launch this unique park for families given its growing popularity within this part of the country," Thompson said in a statement.

Part of Development

The Universal theme park in Frisco will become part of the massive $10 billion Fields mixed-use development, which also houses the headquarters of the PGA of America.

Frisco has been the fastest-growing U.S. city for the past decade, growing 71% between 2010 and 2020. The city has also come up with creative economic incentive deals that have brought the Dallas Cowboys' world headquarters and the PGA of America headquarters to its municipality.

Details on any potential incentives were not

immediately available Wednesday. The city council had scheduled a meeting Wednesday evening to discuss the project with nearby property owners.

In a statement, Frisco Mayor Jeff Cheney said the city has been recognized as a "great place to plant professional roots and raise a family," with this theme park project expected to "enhance our tax base, expand employment opportunities and bring even more fun to Frisco benefiting our residents, businesses, and visitors."

And in Las Vegas, Universal plans to anchor a 20-acre expansion of Area 15, an immersive entertainment development that initially opened in September 2020. Universal's 110,000-square-foot space will be home to a year-round Halloween horror attraction.

To build a large theme park today, developers need to up the ante just to sit at the table, with parks costing between $700 million and $1 billion, said Dennis Speigel, founder and CEO of International Theme Park Services in Cincinnati, who has tracked the amusement park industry for decades. The proposed park by Universal in Texas is likely to cost at least $500 million, he added.

"The critical thing is to have this project properly sized, with it being in the planning for several years in Dallas-Fort Worth, which certainly gives them a critical mass to serve a theme park locally," Speigel told CoStar News.

Universal isn't alone with wanting to develop parks to a young audience with Seaworld's Sesame Street Land and Merlin Entertainment's Legoland Parks, Speigel said. The Dallas-Fort Worth market isn't likely big enough to support two regional theme parks, which makes this an interesting move in the backyard of Six Flags Entertainment, which has been financially struggling as the company's executive leadership enacts a new strategic initiative.

"From Universal's standpoint, they couldn't have picked a better time to come to the market," Speigel said, adding domestically, it appears Universal is the most aggressive theme park company at the moment. "Six Flags has been going through tremendous upheaval on who they are and what they are doing."


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