Previous attempts to develop a Potter theme park attraction
The concept of a Harry Potter-themed attraction at a Universal Studios park was first discussed within the company in the late 1990s or early 2000s; however, the original vision was for an elaborate, effects-packed stage show, similar to The Wild Wild Wild West Stunt Show. The Harry Potter program would have featured Harry, Ron and Hermione in a showdown with Voldemort, culminating in the animatronic villain's spectacular death as he was engulfed in flames. When Universal attempted to broach the idea with Rowling's representatives, they were told that the Potter theme park rights had been awarded to another, unnamed company, which Universal assumed to be Disney. After Universal Orlando president Bob Gualt mentioned in a 2003 meeting that "Disney has Harry Potter wrapped up," leading to rumors that Disney was already developing a Potter project, AOL Time Warner came forward to assert that they owned the theme park rights but had no current plans to exercise or share them.
In late 2006, it was rumored--but denied by Rowling's camp--that Rowling had signed a letter of intent signifying her willingness to move forward with Disney in a partnership for a new theme park. Later reports suggested that the venture fell apart over Disney's reluctance to accommodate Rowling's vision for the attraction, which (according to entertainment blogger Jim Hill) would have brought each guest into the park through an experience mimicking Harry's introduction to the wizarding world, as depicted in the first Potter book:
J.K. allegedly wanted each & every guest who was experiencing the theme park version of Harry Potter's world to do so by first entering the Leaky Cauldron pub. Where -- by tapping on just the right brick ("Three up and two across ... ") -- they'd then gain access to Diagon Alley, that odd collection of Wizards-only shops & restaurants that's hidden away in the heart of London.
From this area (Which was...supposed to have been the equivalent of Main Street U.S.A. at Disneyland...), these folks were then supposed to have made their way to Platform 9 & 3/4 at King's Cross Station. Where -- after magically piercing the barrier that separates the Muggle world from the Wizard world -- guests would have then been able to board a full-sized version of the Hogwarts Express for a trip to Harry's alma mater.
Rumors and official announcement
In January 2007, About.com reported a rumor from a "highly credible source" that the Islands of Adventure park's Lost Continent area was going to be rethemed "to the stories and characters of one of the most popular children's franchises." Other sources followed up in the next few days with unofficial confirmation that the new area would involve Harry Potter, and that it was being developed under the name "Project Strong Arm" in reference to the KUKA robotic arm technology it would utilize. Nikki Finke reported her own confirmation of the Potter park plans in April, followed shortly by a story in The Scotsman; both reports were widely relayed by other media sources.   On May 31, 2007, three weeks before the release of the seventh and final Potter book, Universal (in partnership with Warner Bros.) officially announced the 20-acre park recreating Hogwarts, the Forbidden Forest and Hogsmeade, with a planned opening in 2009.
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