Within the United States, Universal currently operates parks in Orlando and Hollywood, as well as other locations in Japan, China and Singapore. It broke ground last month on Universal Kids Resort in Frisco, Tex., a theme park for families with young children.
Company officials said they’ve identified the Bedford land because of its connectivity to the rest of the United Kingdom and Europe; it’s a little over an hour away from London by train.
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This wouldn’t be Universal’s first theme park in Europe. The company previously owned a park in Salou, Spain, called Universal’s Port Aventura and later Universal Mediterranea, before NBCUniversal sold its stake in 2004. The name was changed to PortAventura World Parks & Resort and is owned by Resort Holdings B.V., a subsidiary of KKR and Investindustrial.
Universal said they plan to communicate plans with the surrounding Bedford community if the project moves forward. The company sent a letter to residents, dated Dec. 20, to share the project’s details. There’s also a website where Universal plans to post updates; the company said there will be opportunities to meet and discuss plans with Universal if the project goes through.
“Our destinations around the world — from the United States to Japan and China — are beautifully designed and landscaped resorts that offer world-class service and feature immersive experiences that invite people to step into the stories they have imagined in their hearts and minds. They also create thousands of jobs and generate significant positive economic impact, both locally and further afield,” the letter read.
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Bedford Mayor Tom Wootton welcomed Universal’s preliminary proposal as a “major business investment,” but added that detailed work is required before decisions can be made because the project is still in its early stages.
“We very much welcome and are excited by the interest from Universal and the immense potential for it to be transformative for the borough,” he said in a statement. “We’re committed to ensure that any plans align with the best interests of our residents.”
Peter Weishar, director of themed experience programs at the University of Central Florida, said the Bedford location is ideal for a theme park because of its proximity to London and to a large base of theme park-goers.
“If they were to create a theme park there, it would be an amazing spot right in a travel hub next to a large population center that’s already a huge fan of their product,” he said.
Europe boasts a sizable collection of theme parks. Merlin Entertainments, which owns several brands including Legoland, has parks in several European countries, including France, Germany, Italy and England. Warner Bros. has a stake in a park near Madrid, and Disneyland Paris celebrated 30 years in 2022.
Theme-park enthusiasts ready to book a flight to the U.K. for the new Universal resort will need to be patient; building a theme park takes years. Weishar said a rush job would take three years. Universal announced in 2019 that it would be opening its Epic Universe park in Orlando in 2023, but it’s now delayed until 2025.
“It’s going to be many years before we see what they’re planning on doing come to fruition,” he said. “They’re using newer technologies and new ways of entertainment. So everything becomes custom, and that takes awhile to design and build.”