Several children attending a news conference Tuesday unveiling plans… (Al Seib, Los Angeles Times )
After defeating Voldemort and his Death Eaters in seven bestselling books and eight hit movies, Harry Potter is taking on perhaps his greatest challenge yet: boosting the Los Angeles economy.
Universal Studios on Tuesday took the wraps off plans to build a Southern California version of the Wizarding World of Harry Potter, which drove a 68% increase in attendance at its Orlando theme park during the first three months of the year compared with the same period in 2010.
Ron Meyer, Universal's president, said his company would spend "several hundred million dollars" to create the attraction, which is expected to include a re-creation of Hogwarts Castle along with Potter-themed rides, shops and restaurants.
The plan was unveiled Tuesday morning at an elaborate ceremony at Universal Studios Hollywood attended by Gov. Jerry Brown, Los Angeles County Supervisor Zev Yaroslovsky, and executives from Universal and Warner Bros., which made the "Potter" films and controls licensing rights to author J.K. Rowling's characters. Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa sent a congratulatory video message from Beijing, where by coincidence he was helping announce the opening of a new theme park in China.
Comcast Corp.-owned Universal will create more than 1,000 jobs in the process, with many more expected to be added indirectly at hotels, restaurants and other tourism-related businesses. Executives said the new attraction would be built within the existing Universal Studios park boundaries, which will likely require the demolition or repurposing of existing rides.
The Los Angeles County Economic Development Corp. estimated that every 1 million additional visitors who come to Universal Studios Hollywood for the Harry Potter attraction will generate $417 million in spending in the county.
"This is a grand slam for the Los Angeles tourism industry," said Mark Liberman, president of the Los Angeles Convention and Visitors Bureau, known as LA Inc. "It's going to immediately be at the top of any attraction L.A. has ever seen."
The Wizarding World of Harry Potter at Universal Orlando has drawn more than 10 million visitors since it opened in June 2010. Visitors have bought more than 1 million glasses of butterbeer, a non-alcoholic drink made famous in the Potter books. Mugs of the sweet, frosty beverage were served at Tuesday's event.
As part of Tuesday's announcement, Universal and Warner also said the Orlando Potter attraction would be significantly expanded.
The Los Angeles attraction won't open for a while, however. Universal Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Williams said in an interview that the 20-acre Wizarding World in Florida took more than four years to build. The Universal Studios Hollywood attraction would likely take at least that long, putting the premiere in 2016 at the earliest.
In addition, Universal can't break ground until a planned $3-billion overhaul of its theme park and film and television studio lot is approved by regulatory authorities.
When it debuts, the legions of Potter fans from around the world who flock to the attraction could help Universal Studios Hollywood gain ground on its larger Southern California rival in Anaheim. Disneyland had 16 million visitors in 2010 and its sibling destination California Adventure drew 6.3 million, according to the Themed Entertainment Assn. Universal Studios Hollywood had 5 million attendees during the same period, the trade group said.
"If we take the authenticity of the experience in Orlando and put it in the world's entertainment capital, you're going to see streams of people coming from countries around the world and affect the whole economic chain of Los Angeles," said Universal Studios Hollywood President Larry Kurzeweil.
Many of the rides currently at Universal Hollywood are based on older films such as "King Kong," "Terminator" and "WaterWorld," though a new "Transformers" attraction will debut next spring.
Warner Bros. Chairman Barry Meyer said his studio spoke to numerous potential candidates about the rights to build a Potter-themed attraction in Southern California before signing a long-term agreement with Universal. A knowledgeable person not authorized to discuss the matter publicly said Walt Disney Co. talked to Warner about adding Harry Potter to Disneyland.
"The millions of fans who have read the books and seen the movies are very demanding, and we're very concerned about not disappointing them," Meyer said. "What Universal built in Orlando met that bar in a dramatic fashion."
Brown, who unlike the business executives in attendance spoke without looking at prepared remarks, said the new Potter attraction was welcome news at a time when many are pessimistic about the state's future.
"Yes, we have had some tough times but the movie industry keeps hope alive and keeps us together," he said. "We are truly a state of imagination, and this great Harry Potter park just pushes us that much further down the road."
Times staff writer Hugo Martin contributed to this report.