A deal to buy some of the hottest land in Orlando’s tourist district was reneged on, according to accusations lobbed in a new lawsuit. Some of the land called into question is where Universal, now the landowner, is building its new theme park, Epic Universe.
Fourth Watch Acquisitions, a Georgia real estate entertainment development company, is suing Universal and Universal City Property Management in the lawsuit filed Friday in Orange County Circuit Court. Fourth Watch says its damages exceed $250 million.
Fourth Watch says it was under contract to buy about 135 acres for $125 million from Universal City Property Management, or UCPM. The two sides made an agreement in September 2017 and the closing was set for early May 2018 “following the expiration of the due diligence period,” according to the lawsuit.
Fourth Watch wanted to get into the theme park business in Orlando and had big plans for the land north of the Orange County Convention Center. The company wanted to build “a thrill-seeker’s extravaganza, featuring an iconic 750-foot-tall snow dome, ATV-tracks, river rafting, canyoning, ice skating, and surfing,” the lawsuit said.
It wasn’t a secret either.
“Industry leaders in the theme park industry such as Universal knew of Fourth Watch’s involvement with and plans for the land,” the lawsuit alleged.
But weeks before the deal was supposed to close, it unexpectedly fell through, Fourth Watch contended. UCPM instead sold the land to Universal on April 11, 2018, behind Fourth Watch’s back, the lawsuit said.
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.
“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,” the Fourth Watch lawsuit said.
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 publicly announced its plans in 2019 to open Epic Universe, a theme park resort with hotels, shopping and restaurants. The project construction faced delays during the pandemic, but the company has said Epic Universe will be ready to open by summer 2025.
Universal could not immediately be reached for comment for this story.
Last updated on April 12, 2022