Universal buys bulk of Thomas land around anticipated theme parks site

Universal Orlando paid an undisclosed sum on Wednesday to acquire a majority of Georgia-based developer Stan Thomas' land east of Universal Boulevard, and the deed restriction rights that pave the way for it to build up to two new theme parks, according to deeds recorded Thursday morning. 

The Orange County recordings don't include deed doc taxes paid, a step by Universal's SLRC Holdings to obscure its acquisition price. 

But the sale price may have met or exceeded $149 million, which is the sum of three mortgages on Thomas' Orlando property that also had satisfaction agreements filed on Thursday. 

"We are excited about our plans for this area and we are looking forward to sharing more at the right time," said Tom Schroder, Universal spokesman. "We also look forward to working with our neighbors in the area and our partners in the community as we move forward." 

Universal and Thomas announced in court Wednesday they had reached a private settlement, which focused on Thomas trying to enforce his role as "Master Declarant" to limit Universal's ability to develop a theme park on 480 contiguous acres it owned east of Universal Boulevard. 

The deeds, which list up to 20 different parcels, inhibit calculation of the total acreage acquired because segments of some parcels are exempted, and their locations are coded for private maps.

Orange County's Comptroller told GrowthSpotter on Thursday they will report the deeds with no doc stamp taxes to the Florida Department of Revenue, which would then review and investigate.

Various affiliates of Thomas Enterprises owned more than 862 acres in the tourist corridor, a majority of it east of Universal Boulevard and north of Destination Parkway, in the direct vicinity or adjacent to more than 517 acres that Universal affiliates own in that direct quadrant. 

Thomas' attorney said Wednesday that he paid $65 million back in 2003, when Thomas bought the Universal City Property Management III (UCPM III) corporate entity from then-Vivendi Universal, which came with 1,800 acres it owned at the time. 

Thomas retained some segments of the land following Wednesday's transaction, according to deeds. Those include 19.45 acres across four parcels owned by affiliate OHL Holdings, which lie along Destination Parkway, International Drive and Convention Way.

Universal filed a new declaration of restrictive covenants for this Thomas affiliate, stipulating what it can and can't develop there, primarily limiting anything that competes with Universal theme parks, an entertainment complex like CityWalk, or time share companies. 

Thomas' UCPM III also transferred over the master declarant rights to SLRC Holdings, giving Universal full control over what can be developed on the land it owns, and future development on more than 2,126 acres that fall within the Universal Boulevard Planned Development zoning area.

His affiliates partially satisfied debts of more than $27.6 million owed to an affiliate of lender Ardent Financial for 82 upland acres here in Orlando, which Thomas was facing foreclosure on since December, according to loan documents filed Thursday.

Thomas' UCPM III also satisfied a mortgage of $100 million to the Georgia-based Wade Park Finance Collateral Company LLC dating from August, and satisfied a $21.483 million loan from Georgia-based Hudland Holdings LLC dating from September.

He may have also settled debts with lenders pursuing foreclosure on large commercial development projects in Texas and Tennessee, where Thomas owed more than $157 million combined. 

Universal has taken steps in the past three months to prepare parts of this land mass for future development.

In early February, it filed a Development Plan with Orange County to build more than 644,000 square feet of office and industrial space on 101 acres along W. Sand Lake Road it bought last October.  

And on March 12, Universal's SLRC Holdings filed mass grading plans with the South Florida Water Management District for roughly 330 contiguous acres it owns east of Universal Boulevard and south of Sand Lake Road, which fall within two established environmental resource permits.

The mass grading and changes to the permits are for the interim only, until a revised master plan is submitted in the future that shows Universal's entire detailed plan for the property.  

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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