Universal Studios Orlando’s newest theme park is already at the center of a massive lawsuit, and it’s not even built yet

epic universe on map
Credit: Canva Creation

Universal Studios‘ newest theme park Epic Universe is already at the center of a massive lawsuit against Universal, and construction on the new theme park isn’t even completed yet.

A Georgia real estate entertainment development company called Fourth Watch Acquisitions filed suit against Universal and Universal City Property Management on Friday in Orange County Circuit Court. The real estate company says its damages total more than $250 million.

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Lawyers for the Georgia-based firm say that they had a deal to buy the land on which Universal intends to build its newest Universal Orlando Resort theme park, Epic Universe, but that Universal reneged on the deal.

According to the lawsuit, Fourth Watch asserts that it had a deal to buy some of the most prime real estate in the tourist district of Orlando. Some of the land around which the suit is centered lies on the location where Epic Universe is to be built.

Epic Universe

Credit: Universal

Also according to the suit, Fourth Watch was under contract to purchase approximately 135 acres in the tourist district for $125 million from Universal City Property Management, UCPM, and both sides formed an agreement in September 2017 with the closing date set in May 2018, “following the expiration of the due diligence period.”

Fourth Watch had plans to throw their hats into the theme park business ring in Orlando, planning to build on the land just north of the Orange County Convention Center. Fourth Watch planned to build what they deemed “a thrill-seeker’s extravaganza, featuring an iconic 750-foot-tall snow dome, ATV tracks, river rafting, canyoning, ice skating, and surfing,” according to the suit.

The suit further states that Universal and other theme park industry big-wigs knew about Fourth Watch’s plans for the land.

“Industry leaders in the theme park industry such as Universal knew of Fourth Watch’s involvement with and plans for the land,” the lawsuit alleges.

However, just weeks before the supposed deal was set to close, it fell through, according to Fourth Watch. The land was instead sold to Universal Studios Orlando on April 11, 2018, without Fourth Watch’s knowledge.

New Details On Universal's Epic Universe Epic Universe

Credit: Orlando Attractions

According to Florida Politics, the supposed under-the-table deal was part of another settlement:

“The lawsuit accuses Universal and UCPM of forging a deal that cut out Fourth Watch and was part of a settlement from the fallout of Universal and UCPM’s long, contentious legal battle over the land’s development.

UCPM was run by Georgia developer Stan Thomas company, which controlled hundreds of acres for years until the company eventually lost it in foreclosure during the Great Recession.

In 2016, Thomas’ company sued Universal, arguing it still owned the rights to enforce the restrictions so a new theme park couldn’t be built there. It was a legal hurdle for Universal, which had long wanted to expand its theme park business. UCPM’s lawsuit was settled on April 11, 2018, and court documents don’t detail the terms of the settlement.”

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“By acquiring the land, Universal could link large swaths of previous unconnected land it owned into a contiguous tract suitable for a large-scale entertainment property development,” reads part of the Fourth Watch lawsuit.

And by cutting out Fourth Watch from the land purchase with UCPM, “Universal could also eliminate a competitive threat in the theme park industry,” the lawsuit said.

Universal studios orlando

Credit: Becky Burkett/Disney Dining

Plans for Universal Studios Orlando‘s Epic Universe were first unveiled in 2019. The newest Universal park will be a theme park resort, featuring hotels, shopping, and restaurants. The coronavirus pandemic delayed construction of the new Epic Universe theme park at Universal Studios, but recently, the company has said that Universal Studios Orlando will open Epic Universe by summer 2025.

Plans for Universal Orlando’s Epic Universe continue at this time. As the suit was just filed last week, a court date is yet to be set.

About Becky Burkett

Becky's from the Lone Star State and has been writing since she was 10 and encountered her first Disney Park when she was 11. It was love at first Main Street Electrical Parade. Joy is blank lined journals, 0.7 mm pens, and all things Walt, Woody and Buzz, PIXAR, Imagineering, Sleeping Beauty (make it blue!), Disney Parks history and EPCOT. At Disney World, you'll find her croonin' with the birdies at the Enchanted Tiki Room or hangin' with Woody and the gang at Toy Story Land. If you can dream, you really can do it!