Universal Studios Florida Smacked With $250 Million Lawsuit

The Universal Orlando Resort faces a $250 million lawsuit from a company that wanted to build a sports theme park in Orlando over land Universal plans to use for its upcoming third theme park, Epic Universe. Fourth Watch Acquisitions claims Universal City Property Management III (UCPM) breached a 2017 agreement to sell the land to them for $125 million before Universal bought it in 2018. The lawsuit was filed in Orange County circuit court on Friday, reports the Orlando Sentinel.

According to the lawsuit, Fourth Watch claims Universal interfered with the contract and bought the land in April 2018 for Epic Universe. The land was between two unconnected properties Universal already owned, and Fourth Watch accused Universal of trying to "eliminate" a competitor. Fourth Watch's damages include "tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars," the company's lawyer, Tucker Byrd, told the Sentinel.

"Under the law, every piece of property is unique," Byrd said. "And you can't say, 'Just go get another parcel somewhere.' And of course, this property had immense intrinsic value – where it is and what it was around."

Fourth Watch claims it reached an agreement to buy the land on Sept. 1, 2017, and it would have closed in May 2018. However, before the deal was finalized, UCPM allegedly sold the land to Universal. The company believes Universal learned of the deal in January 2018 through its previous business dealings with UCPM. According to records, the property development firm continued acting as if its deal with Fourth Watch was still going through. Byrd told the Sentinel his client did not learn about Universal acquiring the land until June 2018.

Fourth Watch wanted to build a "multi-faceted theme park [and] a thrill-seeker's extravaganza" on the land. Byrd said that the company estimated the complex could bring 10 million people to Orlando each year. The planned complex would have included a "snow dome" for indoor skiing, "extreme sports venues," retail space, and a 2,000-room hotel.

UCPM was run by Atlanta developer Stan Thomas' company until the Great Recession, according to Florida Politics, which first reported on Fourth Watch's lawsuit. Thomas' company sued Universal in 2016, claiming they still had the right to stop a company from building a new theme park on the land. The two sides settled in April 2018, and the terms of the deal were not disclosed in court documents. Universal has not commented on the lawsuit.

Universal announced plans to add a third theme park to its resort, Epic Universe, in 2019, alongside more hotels, retail space, and restaurants. There were delays during the pandemic, but construction recently resumed. It will be located a few miles south of the Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure parks. The company plans to open it in the Summer of 2025.