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Universal Plans Second Florida Theme Park : Entertainment: The multibillion-dollar, 600-acre project increases the pressure on Walt Disney World.


Stepping up the pressure on rival Walt Disney World, Universal Studios Florida on Wednesday announced a multibillion-dollar expansion in Orlando that includes its second amusement park there, five hotels, a golf course and a CityWalk-style retail complex.

Universal Studios Florida--jointly owned by MCA Inc., which also operates Universal Studios Hollywood, and Rank Organization of Britain--plans to break ground on the second theme park in early 1995 and complete the entire 600-acre project over the next decade.

The second park will feature attractions based on MCA-Universal's blockbuster movie "Jurassic Park." Director Steven Spielberg is a creative consultant to Universal Studios Florida.

"It will have worldwide appeal," said Tom Williams, president of Universal Studios Florida, who declined to put an exact dollar figure on the expansion. "What's good for us is good for central Florida and all the attractions here."

Orlando, dominated by Walt Disney Co.'s 29,000-acre Walt Disney World, has become the nation's No. 1 tourist destination. Universal's expansion will attract more tourists, but it will also compete with existing attractions, including Disney World, which draws an estimated 30 million visitors annually.

"It's of some concern, obviously" to Disney, said Harold Vogel, a securities analyst for Merrill Lynch Global Securities Research. "This is a significant amount of additional space. They are clearly aiming at the same market."

The plans for Universal Studios Florida--as the project is called--were unveiled one day after the state was rocked by the most recent murder of a foreign tourist. Florida tourism officials expect a major drop in international visitors as a result of the killings.

But Williams said his company has confidence in the Florida tourist industry, the state's largest.

"The murders and difficulties that have happened in Florida have happened outside of Orlando," said Williams, whose park relies on foreign tourists for at least 25% of attendance. "We are confident in Orlando . . . and in visitors' safety."

Williams says economic conditions will have a greater impact on Universal's plans. Continued weakness at home and abroad could heat up the competition for Orlando visitors, say industry analysts.

The Disney and MCA theme parks are proven moneymakers in several ways. Besides generating profits in their own right, they also provide marketing tie-ins. Universal Studios Hollywood broke attendance records this summer primarily as a result of its new "Back to the Future" attraction, which is based on the hit films starring Michael J. Fox.

"Those theme parks bring to life what the companies have in their films and merchandise groups," said Steve Clark, president of Management Resources, a Tustin-based leisure and tourism consulting firm. "Disney set the standard."

Although Universal Studios Florida has become the third-most popular domestic theme park, it lacks the size, on-site hotels and other attractions that keep visitors at Disney World for days. The larger Universal project--although still dwarfed by Disney World--will encourage visitors to stay longer, analysts say.

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