Some things might be getting a little complicated soon for Universal.
We’ve shared some news about Universal’s new affordable housing project, their new planning website, and the opening timeline for Epic Universe (their new theme park). But now it seems that Universal and some of the land it appears to be building on is at the center of a lawsuit.
Universal has become the subject of a lawsuit recently filed in Orange County, Florida. The documents related to this lawsuit are viewable through the Orange County Clerk Court Records Search website.
Thus far, two civil cover sheets (one filed 4/8/22, another filed 4/11/22) and the complaint have been filed.
The plaintiff is Fourth Watch Acquisitions, which is allegedly a Georgia Limited Liability Company that does business in Orange County, Florida. They are suing Universal City Property Management III LLC and Universal City Development Partners LTD.
Universal City Development Partners is an entity related to Universal Orlando). According to the Orlando Business Journal, Universal City Property Management (UCPM) is an entity that traces back to Stan Thomas, “who previously owned many parcels of the land now owned by Universal Orlando.”
According to the Complaint, Fourth Watch is a real estate entertainment development company. They are suing Universal City Property Management (UCPM) for breach of a real estate purchase agreement and are suing Universal City Development Partners (Universal) for procuring that breach.
In the Complaint, Fourth Watch alleges that they had contracted to purchase some land in Orange County, Florida to develop a theme park that would feature a snow dome, ATV-tracks, ice skating, surfing, and more. They even included some concept development plans in the Complaint.
Fourth Watch claims that they entered into a real estate purchase agreement with UCPM on September 1st, 2017, whereby UCPM allegedly agreed to sell the land in Orlando to UCPM. A copy of the supposed agreement is attached as Exhibit A to the Complaint.
The land identified in the document attached as the contract is said to be 135+ acres of vacant land on Universal Blvd. in Orange County, Florida.
According to the Complaint, the agreement between these two parties was set to close following the expiration of a due diligence period in May of 2018.
But, Fourth Watch claims things changed. The Complaint goes on to allege that “during the pendency of the Agreement and before Fourth Watch could purchase the land…UCPM sold the Land to Universal on or about April 11, 2018, without Fourth Watch’s knowledge or consent.”
Fourth Watch claims that Universal Development learned of Fourth Watch’s agreement with UCPM by at least January of 2018. Fourth Watch also alleges that “industry leaders in the theme park industry such as Universal knew of Fourth Watch’s involvement with and plans for the Land.”
Despite this alleged knowledge, Fourth Watch claims that UCPM and Universal “conspired” to finalize their own land transfer agreement.
Fourth Watch claims that this may have been done as part of a way to settle a larger dispute between UCPM and Universal, and as a way to let Universal link large portions of previously unconnected land so as to be able to make it suitable for large-scale property development and “eliminate a competitive thread in the theme park industry.”
Based on our understanding, part of the land at issue in this Complaint looks to be land that Universal is now using to build its new theme park, Epic Universe. Indeed, the Orlando Business Journal says that Fourth Watch is suing “entities tied to Universal Orlando Resort and the former owner of 135 acres that make up part of the Epic Universe theme park property.”
The Orlando Business Journal notes that much of the land at issue is still undeveloped, but some is home to an apartment complex built in 2020.
Fourth Watch alleges that it expended “substantial monies” in planning for its own theme park development in that space and that its damages exceed $500,000 for breach of contract and also exceed $500,000 for the second count it has brought. In fact, altogether Fourth Watch says that their direct and consequential damages exceed $250 million.
In terms of counts in the Complaint, Fourth Watch is suing UCPM for breach of contract and is suing Universal for tortious interference with contract. The Complaint then ends with a demand for a jury trial.
According to the Orlando Business Journal, Tuker Byrd, a partner at Byrd Campbell PA law firm, which is the firm that represents Fourth Watch, has indicated that the likely resolution to this case will be a certain amount of “compensation for the loss of the benefits had the deal closed.”
This is just a summary of the allegations in the Complaint. Again, keep in mind these are just the allegations of the plaintiff, Fourth Watch. Neither Universal City Property Management nor Universal City Development Partners has filed a response (it is a bit soon since the Complaint was only filed recently). We’ll keep an eye out for more news about this situation and let you know what we find.
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