Universal Orlando pays $27.5M for 101 acres next to Universal Blvd land mass

A Universal Orlando affiliate paid $27.5 million on Thursday for 101 acres in the tourism corridor next to existing land assets, bringing its investment to more than $157 million within the past two years in undeveloped land east of Universal Boulevard. 

Located in the 5000 block of W. Sand Lake Road directly east of Lockheed Martin's campus, the property is almost entirely upland, and gives Universal direct frontage and vehicular access on Sand Lake Road.

It lies just 3 miles from the established Universal Orlando parks, and connects to the majority of 474 acres that Universal's parent company bought in December 2015, where a future theme park is anticipated. 

The purchase now gives Universal 480 contiguous acres across five parcels that lie south of Sand Lake Road, east of Universal Boulevard and north of Destination Parkway that are separated only by drainage canals.  

That contiguous mass is more than double the 209 acres that Universal Studios Florida and Islands of Adventure occupy (not including back-of-house buildings, related hotels or Universal's CityWalk). SeaWorld Orlando's theme park covers about 196 acres.  

The company has another 37.1 acres on two isolated parcels fronting Universal Boulevard across from the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye, which could be connected to the mass by future water or road transportation.

Weaving between those Universal affiliate properties and providing interconnectivity to all are another 174 acres owned by Universal City Property Management III, an affiliate of developer Stan Thomas' Thomas Enterprises out of Newnan, Georgia. 

Back in May 2016, Universal worked with Orange County planners to map out a subdistrict for its land in the International Drive District Development Code, and included a conceptual transportation link between its parcels which would run through Thomas-affiliate land, along what is currently a narrow drainage easement.

Thomas Enterprises declined to comment Monday on if negotiations for the land were active with Universal. 

Universal has declined to comment on its future plans for the property. Executives with parent company Comcast have told investors in the past two years they have many ideas, and confirmed in November 2016 that a Nintendo-themed land would be coming to Orlando in the future. 

Affiliate Universal City Development Partners Ltd. closed on the property on Oct. 26, according to CBRE's Robert McEwan. The deed has yet to be recorded in Orange County as of Monday. 

He marketed the site with David Murphy for tourism-related and industrial uses, GrowthSpotter first reported Sept. 14. The property was marketed by CBRE for less than 30 days before Universal brought it under contract.  

The asset was one of many that Highlands REIT is attempting to unload, after being created in April 2016 and inheriting more than 22 non-core assets from InvenTrust Properties, another public REIT formerly known as Inland American Real Estate Trust

An Inland affiliate bought the property in 2011 for $9,100 through foreclosure from former owner and Georgia-based developer Stan Thomas, who had planned a large retail center there in the mid-2000s.  

This is the second property McEwan's land services team at CBRE has sold to Universal, following the 474-acre, 19-parcel Colony Capital portfolio for $130 million in December 2015. 

Universal's affiliate paid approximately $272,277 per acre to Highlands REIT for the 101 acres last week. That's down slightly from the $274,000 per acre it paid to Colony in late 2015, and well below the $1 million or more per acre currently being asked in most land deals on International Drive and Universal Boulevard. 

Another 57.9 acres, approximately, of that Colony package are not adjacent to the Universal Boulevard land mass, and are considered targets for future hotel development or staff support services. 

Separately, Universal filed plans last Thursday to pave more than 27 acres it owns along an unfinished portion of Destination Parkway, a few miles south of the major land mass, for "temporary overflow" parking spaces, though without specifying the intended user. 

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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