Universal announced earlier this year that they are going to build a new theme park in Texas, featuring concept art that seemed to include properties like DreamWorks Trolls, Shrek, and more. A few months later, the city of Frisco approved development plans for the kid-friendly park and hotel on a 97-acre plot of land.
Let’s check in on those plans, as well as the current state of rumors, to see what we can learn about the upcoming “Universal Kids” theme park. See the video version of this story below for additional visuals.
First announced in January 2023, the new theme park is set to be built on a 97-acre section of land in Frisco, Texas. This parcel of land had previously been zoned for future development of apartments, hotels, offices, or other commercial structures, but not for theme parks.
In March 2023 Frisco’s City Council approved Universal’s special use permit to build their theme park on the parcel.
Known internally as Project 117, this project, along with a new haunted house attraction announced for Las Vegas, caused the Universal Parks & Resorts division of Comcast to rebrand itself.
Now called Universal Destinations & Experiences, the new name shows the company’s desire to offer more than just theme parks, but also smaller experiences like these. If they prove popular, the new kids park here in Texas, and the haunt in Vegas, may only be the start of a new business model around the world.
While the official announcement for this new theme park was vague, they did say it will contain immersive themed lands that will celebrate Universal’s iconic brand of entertainment, humor, and innovation while bringing its beloved characters and stories to life in ways that are specifically designed to appeal to families with young children.
And that is a key point, this new theme park is meant for kids. While Universal has not yet revealed the name for the park, rumors have suggested it may even be named “Universal Kids.”
The mayor of Frisco, Jeff Cheney, has said the park will be targeting 3 to 9 year old children especially. This would put the park in line with experiences from other companies like Sesame Place or LEGOLAND.
The city council’s approval of Universal’s permit updated the language regarding the targeted age range to now include children 3 up to 11 years old. The approval also specifically mandates that Universal utilize theming and characters that are “high quality” and have a “proven history of economic success and popularity.”
The special permit approvals contain additional conditions that must be met, including park operating hours limitations, building height limits, noise ordinances, and even a rule that states that no amusement ride on the property shall have a minimum height requirement higher than 48 inches. This is likely an attempt to ensure the park is actually meant for children, and will not contain extreme thrill rides.
While a start date for actual construction was not discussed during the City Council meeting in March, they did suggest that Universal should have the park and hotel open by June 2026. That means we should see major construction begin in 2024.
It has been reported that the project is estimated to cost $550 million, and that architecture firm Gensler is heading up project. This is “according to sources familiar with the project,” and has not been confirmed by Universal or Gensler.
Gensler has an office in nearby Dallas, and earlier this year the company hired former Disney Imagineer President Bob Weis as the firm’s new global immersive experience design leader.
Universal and Frisco conducted a thorough traffic study before the park’s development was approved. Universal has worked with the city to plan the layout of the park, on-site hotel, backstage areas, and parking to best avoid negatively affecting traffic for the nearby neighborhoods.
Universal has even agreed to pay for an extension to the privacy wall in front of the neighborhood located across from the future hotel site.
To help with noise and traffic concerns, the city has put limitations in place for the operating hours of this new theme park. According to the agreement, most operating days would see an opening time of 9am or 10am and closing times between 6pm and 9pm. They are also allowed up to 20 days during the year where they can stay open till 10pm.
An exception was carved out for hotel guest and annual passholder early entry, which technically means the park could be open to certain guests as early as 8am. However, they cannot exceed the number of cars predicted by the traffic study during the weekday 8am to 9am hour, as it could affect residents heading to work or school in the immediate area. These restrictions will not take effect until after the park’s first 90 days, to allow for an influx of more than usual visitors. Universal has agreed to these terms.
Other concerns from local residents have been addressed by these restrictions, including visual intrusions and building height limits. Universal has agreed to an 80-foot height limit for most buildings within the theme park itself, and a 100-foot limit to structures that are part of rides or icons within designated sections of the theme park area.
The discussion on which structures may be up to 100-feet tall included examples at other parks, like the decorative Hogwarts Castle icon. Landscaping, distance from the street, berms, and walls would be used to limit visibility of these taller structures so only the top may be seen poking above the visual barriers.
The mayor says the hotel itself is expected to be around 5 stories tall, but permits say the height limit is 10 stories, or 120 feet max.
The hotel is planned to open with at least 300 rooms, but will likely be expanded to 600 rooms shortly after the park opens according to Universal and planning officials.
Current plans list 4,352 parking spaces for the theme park and hotel, but that may be adjusted as plans are finalized. The permit says that 2 parking spaces per 3 seats on the amusement rides or 10 spaces for attractions with no defined seating are required. There must also be 1 parking space for each hotel room available.
The plans include 559 parking spots for the hotel itself, which would be closer to the 600 room count officials discussed.
The proposed layout for the property includes two main parking lot sections for the theme park, as well as the lots for the hotel and employee parking, all acting as a sort of buffer between the theme park and surrounding area on two sides.
The hotel is near the center of the property, further blocking the theme park areas from the street on the side closest to the nearest neighborhood.
The theme park areas itself, as well as the parking entry street, are situated on the sides of the property that are not facing residential areas.
Plans also describe a future expansion to the theme park area located closer to the parking lots for future use. This expansion area has lower height limits than the main area.
Zooming in, we can see an area designated for a proposed storage and tech services building behind the theme park. An employee support and administration building can be seen near employee parking.
The actual entrance to the theme park is seen on the bottom-left corner of the designated space, within a circle on the plans. This park entry area is centrally located between the two guest parking lots, and located directly behind what could be the hotel’s main lobby entrance as well.
The plans for the layout of the property seem to be pretty much locked in to get approvals to start work on the land, but what the actual theme park area itself will contain is likely still being designed. We do have one official piece of concept art so far, which was released by Universal during the announcement in January.
While we have theorized on which themed lands this new kid-friendly park may contain based on this art in prior updates, rumor has it that what can be seen here may no longer apply, and what gets built may end up being different.
We were assuming that all of the park would be based on DreamWorks animated properties, given that it appears that things like Trolls, Shrek, Camp Cretaceous, and Madagascar franchises are represented in this art, but now I wouldn’t be so certain.
While there has been a push within the company to include more DreamWorks properties within all of their theme parks around the world, like Kung-Fu Panda in Universal Beijing, How to Train Your Dragon in Epic Universe, and even multiple franchises at the new DreamWorks Land for Universal Studios Florida, that does not mean this new Frisco park will exclusively feature only DreamWorks characters.
As was hinted at during the official announcement, many believe that this park will also contain an area dedicated to Minions, one of Universal’s most profitable franchises. That property was released under the Illumination Studios banner, and not DreamWorks. Minions may not be the only property outside of DreamWorks for the new park.
It’s also possible that this new park could even see licensed properties not owned by parent company Comcast. An excerpt we discussed earlier from the special permit approved by the Frisco City Council about what types of characters and properties the new park should contain may be somewhat telling. It specifies that the park could include not just properties from NBCUniversal and its affiliates, but also from “licensors.” This opens up possibilities for what this new park could contain, beyond just the company’s in-house DreamWorks and Illumination studios.
That’s all for now, but be sure to subscribe to the news feed to follow along with the development and construction of this new family-friendly theme park, as well as other new projects like the year-round haunt attraction in Las Vegas, the new Epic Universe theme park in Orlando, and more. See the video version of this story for additional visuals.
Subscribe to the news feed or enter your email address below to never miss an update. Official Images: Universal Destinations & Experiences | Permit Images: friscotexas.gov | Graphics: Alicia Stella | Other images as captioned