Disney may soon be dealing with an unwanted kind of Toy Story: Legoland, the California theme park, wants to move in next to Mickey Mouse.
Attractions Magazine, a unique publication that chronicles the amusement industry in Florida, started chatter among locals by reporting that residents have been receiving online surveys asking whether they'd be interested in attending a new Legoland theme park near Orlando, and how much they'd be willing to pay to get in.
On Monday, local NBC affiliate WESH-TV secured confirmation that Legoland is eyeing Florida as the location for its second American park, and its fifth worldwide. The Orlando Business Journal asserted that Legoland, which targets families with kids aged 2 to 12 with rides and shows, attempted to buy the land occupied by the ruins of failed amusement park, Splendid China, that's located just a few minutes' drive southwest of Disney's gates, nearly within sight of the Tree of Life at Disney's Animal Kingdom.
If Legoland does decide to be the new kid on the block, it's picking an interesting time. All of the Orlando theme parks have suffered dents in their attendance, and Orlando itself is hurting, with May attendance down 11.5% compared to last year. Disney has managed to eke out a profit only through the heavy use of discounted package deals, which it rarely used to undertake.
On the other hand, Florida's unemployment rate is somewhere around 10%, and by the time a new Orlando park is built and ready for business, tourism should hopefully have picked up and the new job prospects will be welcome. Florida's real estate is in dire straits, too, so if Legoland is looking for a deal while the market has bottomed out, chances are good that it will find one.
That's a likely scenario, because the park's execs are now sniffing around two areas that most locals find unsavory or tacky: near Winter Haven, about an hour south of Disney, and on a junky stretch of U.S. 192 in Kissimmee, a few miles east of Disney property.
Tourism conditions are expected to improve somewhat -- and Disney may find itself in a real battle to maintain its current levels -- in 2010, when Universal's Islands of Adventure park finally drops the ropes on its massive new Wizarding World of Harry Potter area. It doesn't open for at least another year, but the building that will house its marquee ride is already towering over the park, tantalizing vacationers with its as-yet-unannounced secrets. It will be a do-or-die year for Universal -- and Orlando in general.
Legoland's only American park is located a half-hour north of San Diego, (and about an hour south of the original Disneyland) and it charges $63 for an adult ticket and $53 for kids. With more big-ticket parks appearing on the Orlando landscape, the likelihood of eventual ticket price wars grows, even as the economy starts to improve.
Ironically, Lego currently operates one of the only free attractions within Walt Disney World: the Lego Imagination Center store in the Downtown Disney area, where kids can play at one of 36 stations at no charge.
Could Mickey be harboring the very rival that will soon rise to battle him for Orlando's highly disputed kiddie market?
Some assembly required: Legoland looks for place to build ... near Disney World