Harry Potter park set for Florida

Universal plans opening for 2009

Universal and Warner Bros. are conjuring a massive Harry Potter attraction to debut before the last installment of J.K. Rowling’s monster lit franchise hits the bigscreen.

“The Wizarding World of Harry Potter” is skedded to open at Universal’s Islands of Adventure theme park in Orlando, Fla., in late 2009. Described as a theme park within a theme park, it will contain three attractions devoted to Hogwarts, the Forbidden Forest and the village of Hogsmeade, along with plenty of shops to sell related merchandise.

(The Universal Orlando resort also contains a U Studios theme park and CityWalk dining and shopping area.)

The collaboration comes after prolonged wooing by U brass, who traveled to Scotland to present their vision to Rowling. Warner execs said they have been besieged by requests for a park ever since they brought the first book to the bigscreen in 2001 but didn’t want to rush into anything until they had the right plan.

“The timing seemed right for us,” said Warner Bros. prexy and chief operating officer Alan Horn, noting that the fifth installment, “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix,” will bow on the bigscreen next month, soon to be followed by the arrival of the seventh and final book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.”

Warner execs confirmed they had talked about a Harry Potter attraction with other park operators, including Disney, before settling on Universal, which began its campaign for the attraction 2½ years ago.

“Harry Potter was on our wish list for a long time,” said Universal Parks and Resorts chairman-CEO Tom Williams.

Universal’s older-skewing demo was a decided plus, Warner chairman-CEO Barry Meyer said, especially considering the series’ darker tone in later installments.

The books have sold more than 325 million copies in more than 200 territories worldwide. The four bigscreen versions, all produced by Warner, have generated more than $3.5 billion at the box office worldwide.

And that, U’s Williams enthuses, will translate into exceedingly high awareness when the attraction opens in late 2009. Universal hired the pic’s production designer, Stuart Craig, to ensure that the look remains faithful to the films.

The scale of the Harry Potter attraction is certainly ambitious. “Basically, we’re building a theme park,” said Universal Studios prexy and chief operating officer Ron Meyer.

“We need a lot of clay,” seconded Williams, alluding to the massive source material in book and movie form.

Both sides say the timing of the opening is more coincidence than grand plan, though coming as the bigscreen franchise draws to a close won’t hurt.

“We were just concerned with getting it right: Getting it right creatively and getting it right to Jo Rowling’s vision,” Warner’s Meyer said.

“We just wanted to get it open before the summer,” U’s Meyer said. “For us, it’s an attraction that will last as long as the park — longer than our lifetime, hopefully.”

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