By Brady MacDonald
7:30 AM PDT, April 25, 2013
We still have more questions than answers about the Wizarding World of Harry Potter more than a year after plans were announced for a West Coast version of the themed land at Universal Studios Hollywood.
With much of the what, where and when of the Wizarding World project still a mystery, let's start with what we do know before working our way to what we still don’t know.
Where will the new land be located?
After months of rumors, Universal announced on Wednesday that the 40-year-old Gibson Amphitheatre located on the theme park grounds will be torn down to make way for the Wizarding World attraction.
The adjacent Adventures of Curious George water play area will also be removed, suggesting a possible main entrance to Wizarding World.
The new themed land will be squeezed between the studio backlot tram station, the WaterWorld stunt show and the Shrek 4-D movie theater — all of which will not be affected by the expansion.
When will construction start?
Universal announced this week that construction would begin in "late summer." Gibson Amphitheatre officials said the 6,000-seat concert venue would stage shows through September.
How much will it cost?
The overall project, which will include facility and infrastructure upgrades at the adjacent television and movie studio, has been pegged at $500 million.
The original Wizarding World, which opened in 2010 at Universal Studios Florida, reportedly cost $265 million. Presumably there will be fewer start-up costs this time around.
How big will the new land be?
Universal officials have said that the California Wizarding World will be similar to the Florida version.
But the 6-acre Hollywood site will be about half the size of the 13-acre Orlando location. But two-thirds of that land in Florida is dedicated to the Dragon Challenge dueling coaster (which most likely won't be replicated in California).
What attractions will be added?
The Harry Potter themed land in Florida includes three attractions: the Harry Potter and the Forbidden Journey motion-based simulator ride and a pair of re-themed coasters, the dueling twin-track Dragon Challenge and the family-friendly Flight of the Hippogriff.
Universal officials have said that the California themed land would include a clone of the Forbidden Journey ride inside a replica of Hogwarts castle. What remains unclear is whether Hollywood will get a Hogsmeade village complete with a Honeydukes candy store, Ollivander's wand shop, Zonko's joke shop and a Three Broomsticks restaurant.
When will Wizarding World open?
The "when" of Wizarding World still remains a closely guarded secret.
It won't be 2014, with the Despicable Me: Minion Mayhem simulator ride scheduled to replace the Terminator 2 attraction next year. That pushes Potter and his pals back to 2015 or 2016.
The Florida construction took 2 1/2 years, with the original 2009 opening delayed until June 2010.
What's the status of the other Wizarding World projects?
Construction is underway on a Potter clone at Universal Studios Japan, with a 2014 opening expected.
Work has begun in Florida on a second Potter project at Universal Studios Orlando that is expected to include a replica of Diagon Alley with a Leaky Cauldron restaurant and a Gringotts Wizarding Bank indoor roller coaster. Universal has been equally secretive about these details, including an opening date.
Is there room to grow in California?
It's not inconceivable to imagine the powers that be at Universal wondering where they would put a Diagon Alley sequel in Hollywood should Wizarding World prove as popular on the West Coast as it has on the East Coast.
While space is tight at the Hollywood park, Potter II could take over part of the CityWalk parking lot, move into the WaterWorld space with an action-adventure show or find space in the studio back lot.
What's with all the secrecy and gamesmanship?
One word: Disney. Universal is anxious to keep Mickey Mouse guessing.
The instant success of Wizarding World in Florida forced Disney World to unveil two massive counterattacks: a reinvention of Fantasyland for 2012 and the creation of Avatar Land for 2016.
Universal played the same game back in December 2011, announcing the westward expansion of Harry Potter as a way to distract attention from the upcoming opening of Cars Land at Disney California Adventure this past summer.
Expect the Boy Wizard to steal second-day visitors away from Disney California Adventure and force Disney to respond with some new magic of its own. Regional parks like SeaWorld San Diego, Six Flags Magic Mountain and Knott's Berry Farm will have to step up the competition.
Will it be worth the wait?
In a word, yes.
The level of detail at Wizarding World set a new standard by which all theme park attractions are now judged and Forbidden Journey is generally considered to be the best ride in the amusement industry.
The line to get into the new land wound outside the front gates of the park and took up to eight hours to navigate on opening day. Crowds still often grow so thick in the land that visitors are slowed to a shoulder-to-shoulder crawl.
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