Harry Potter theme park to open in Japan

Osaka-based Universal Studios attraction to open in 2014

Harry Potter is ready to cast a spell on theme park guests in Japan.

With the film franchise having ended its run in theaters, Warner Bros. sees the amusement park biz as a way to make sure the boy wizard remains a lucrative revenue source for years to come.

Studio announced plans Thursday to build a third Wizarding World of Harry Potter park, at Universal Studios Japan. It’s set to open in late 2014.

A Potter park is already planned for Hollywood, and the new project is expected to cost some $500 million to build. But the returns for both WB and Universal should be considerable.

“We view this whole theme park experience as the next great opportunity for the brand to live on in perpetuity,” Brad Globe, president of Warner Bros. Consumer Products, told Variety. “This is an attraction that will be around for 30 years.”

The Osaka-based theme park will replicate the rides, restaurants and attractions, including Hogsmeade Village and Hogwarts castle, that have proved a big draw at Islands of Adventure in Orlando, Fla., since opening in June 2010.

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The design and construction will be overseen by Stuart Craig, production designer for the “Harry Potter” films. He also developed the park in Orlando and is now working on the Hollywood sequel, which isn’t expected to open until around 2016 due to construction demands.

“Potter” author J.K. Rowling approved of the plans, announced Thursday in Osaka, saying in a statement: “I was delighted to experience and enjoy the attention to detail, creativity and superb craft that went into the first Wizarding World in Orlando. I am equally delighted that the same level of expertise and enjoyment will translate to the new park in Japan.”

Company is taking what it learned in Orlando and applying it to the next Wizarding Worlds, expanding the size of retail locations like Ollivander’s wand shop, which proved too cramped for throngs of guests.

“We had high expectations for the first park that were exceeded dramatically,” Globe said. “Each (new park) will have its own nuances based on space. But we have to build it to make sense operationally. We have to make sure we have enough room to meet demand (for products). Creatively, nothing changes.”

With Disney opening “Cars Land” this summer at California Adventure in Anaheim and spending $500 million on an “Avatar” park inside its Animal Kingdom park at Walt Disney World in Orlando, themed lands are turning into lucrative new sources of licensing revenue for studios.

The Potter park in Florida gets much of the credit for boosting Universal’s theme park revenue by 24% to $2 billion last year. And the boy wizard is still selling a lot of butterbeer, with revenue rising 5.7% to $412 million and profits up 17% to $157 million during the company’s first quarter this year.

Sales of butterbeer alone racked up $3 million from 1 million mugs of the frothy drink sold in the first six months of the park’s opening.

Universal also operates a theme park in Singapore and has plans to build new parks in South Korea, Dubai and Russia that could house additional Wizarding Worlds. While Warner Bros. may turn some of its other tentpoles into themed lands, its possibilites are limited: DC Comics characters like Batman and Superman are already aligned with Six Flags as part of an existing long-term deal. WB doesn’t own “The Lord of the Rings” and upcoming “The Hobbit” franchises to exploit.

Not every tentpole can translate into a full-fledged land, WB stresses.

“We’ve seen movies like ‘Star Wars,’ ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘Jurassic Park’ that spawn great attractions and great rides, but I haven’t ever seen a movie property like ‘Harry Potter’ that is so experiential,” Globe said. “The whole experience of walking into Hogsmeade and picking out your wand” is hard to replicate with other franchises.

Warner Bros. controls the license for the Harry Potter film franchise, including products and projects spun off from the pics. As a result, it gets final approval of Wizarding World designs and marketing campaigns and collects a percentage of ticket and merchandise sales, while also collecting a fee for the theme park rights. Universal Parks & Resorts ponies up the money to build the park.

Universal splits ownership of the Japanese park with private investors like Goldman Sachs.

Decision to open a new Potter park in Japan comes after the films earned $893 million at the box office and were viewed by an estimated 78 million people in the territory. Around 24 million Potter books have been sold in Japan.

Plans to build more Potter parks “began immediately” after “we saw the immense success and the experiences that consumers enjoyed” in Orlando, Globe said. “We feel very confident this will go even more smoothly,” since “we’ve already built” one.

The addition of Harry Potter at the Osaka park is expected to provide the kind of attendance boost that benefited U’s Orlando property and should generate thousands of jobs during its construction and then its operation.

Universal Studios Japan, which opened in 2001, attracted 9 million guests last year, the company said. Park offers similar attractions to U’s other properties based on “Jaws,” “Jurassic Park,” “Shrek” and Spider-Man. But two of its biggest rides, “Space Fantasy” and “Hollywood Dream,” aren’t branded.

One additional beneficiary of the expansion is expected to be Steven Spielberg. While he didn’t produce the “Potter” films, he serves as a creative advisor to Universal Studios Japan as part of his overall role as a creative consultant to Universal Parks & Resorts, which pays him a percentage of the company’s theme park ticket sales. Deal is worth around $50 million a year.

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