UNIVERSAL THINKS OLDER IN ORLANDO

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The entertainment mecca that Mickey founded is about to get even more crowded.

British leisure development group Rank Organization has secured $2 billion in financing for a new Orlando area theme park and entertainment complex it's building with MCA. Universal City Florida is scheduled to open in 1999; it will be adjacent to Universal Studios Florida, also owned by Rank and MCA.

The new complex, already under construction, is expected to cost $3 billion and take 10 years to finish. It will expand Universal's theme parks to more than 600 acres. Park neighbor Walt Disney Co. covers 30,000 acres.

Seagram Co.'s MCA division will manage the park, which will include Universal's Islands of Adventure. Each of five islands will feature a different theme-those under development include Steven Spielberg's "Jurassic Park," Dr. Seuss' "Seuss Landing," Marvel Comics superheroes and Popeye. Each site will contain rides, shows, live entertainment, restaurants and retail outlets.

There also will be a 12-acre entertainment zone with a 5,000-seat, 16-screen movie theater, and theme restaurants and nightclubs.

Rank and MCA currently are in discussions with potential partners to build five hotel properties.

One beneficiary of the new theme park may be Los Angeles-based Seiniger Advertising, main agency for Universal Studios Florida.

Rank executives are buoyed by attendance at their Orlando park. Roughly 6.4 million visitors attended Universal Studios last year, generating park revenue of $317 million and operating profits of $51 million.

Orlando theme parks have needed to focus attention on providing older audiences with entertainment options, and that appears to be just what Universal City will do, said Stan Plog, chairman-CEO of Plog Research, a Los Angeles travel research company.

Among the three Orlando area theme park complexes (Universal, Walt Disney World and Busch Entertainment's SeaWorld), Universal's allure suffers most as patron ages increase, according to Plog's 1994 American Travelers Survey.

"[Universal] needs to have a bigger market, to broaden its appeal as the population ages," Mr. Plog said. "It looks like that's what Universal's primary goal is."

The growth of Orlando as an entertainment haven will increase the already heated competition between that Florida city and Las Vegas, said Jay Lewis, president-CEO of Market Scope, a Miami-based travel consultancy.

"This is really changing the vacation landscape of America," Mr. Lewis said. "I see these two big black holes dragging in people from all over."

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