Friday, April 30, 2021

If I Were Disney CEO - DisneylandForward

There's a great big beautiful tomorrow...just a dream away... 

(c) Disney

Disney has been in the news for several different reasons of late, but DisneylandForward is one of the most interesting from my perspective.  It's part blue sky imagineering, part local political intrigue, and all shrewd business.  DisneylandForward represents an interesting long-term planning strategy for the Disneyland Resort.  

The Disneyland Resort was always in an awkward position regarding future expansion, given its nature of being the first resort built.  At the time, Disney was simply a single park, parking lot, and eventual hotel.  Because of the park's overwhelming success, businesses began popping up as close to the park as possible, with many being directly across the street.  This started boxing Disney in regarding future expansion.  

The company does own a larger parcel of land near the resort, currently used as an additional parking lot, which has been previously earmarked for a third theme park, but there are several logistical issues regarding this location.  It's physically separated from the other two parks, directly across the street from the Anaheim Convention center, and nearly 0.75 miles from the current park gates.  There would need to be some sort of transportation system needed to get back and forth between the new park and the existing parks, and that system would need to cross at least a couple of major thoroughfares.  

More recently, the complicating factor has been the Disneyland Resort Specific Plan, a subset of the Anaheim Resort Area Specific Plan.  These two documents coordinated with the city of Anaheim, govern much of what Disneyland can do with the resort area land.  It governs the number of hotel rooms that Disney can build, the number of timeshare rooms it can build, which parcels of land can be parking, which can be hotel, which can be theme parks or shopping, etc.

This more than anything has been the greatest complicating factor for Disney's plans and has actively derailed some of the company's most recent attempts to revitalize the resort.  The resort plan combined with an Anaheim city council that was less friendly to Disney led to the cancellation of the Eastern Gateway Expansion, abandoning plans for a large parking structure on Disney's eastern side as well as a pedestrian bridge to the park's gates.  It cancelled the planned four-diamond hotel expansion of the Disneyland Hotel into the previous Downtown Disney space, leaving much of that section still vacant.

Things began to turn around last November for Disney in Anaheim.  The election brought a more favorable city council to Anaheim.  And while the pandemic has closed the resort for a little over a year, with it only opening a few days ago, the importance of Disney to the success of Anaheim has been brought to the forefront of everyone's mind there. Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu summed it best.  “This is a monumental day for Anaheim.  We have all missed the joy of Disneyland, and we’re so glad to have that back. But this means so much more to working families, small businesses and our city. The impact of having the theme parks closed for more than 13 months due to the pandemic has been devastating. This begins our economic recovery and brings hope back to Anaheim.

So, it is in this environment that Disney released DisneylandForward on March 25, 2021.  DisneylandForward contains no specifics, no detailed plans for expansion, but rather presents possibilities.  All of the concept art, all of the diagrams, are designed to curry public favor for the expansion, so that Disney can take greater control of the Disneyland Resort Area.  So that Disney can control what it places where, how many hotel rooms it adds, where new attractions can go, and so on.

That's what makes the concept art above so intriguing.  One pitch by Disney is to expand both Disneyland and Disney California Adventure into the parking lots surrounding the Disneyland Hotel and the Paradise Pier Hotel.  An unprecedented mixture of hotel and theme park.  Disney would then rely on its two current parking garage, as well as a new parking garage in the Eastern Expansion.  The proposed third park location would become a spot for a new hotel and shopping/dining area.

You can see the concessions Disney will likely make to Anaheim as well.  The change in designation of the proposed third park location from theme park to mixed use hotel and shopping/dining likely means Disney will agree to split their land in two in order to allow the expansion of Gene Autry Way from the Convention Center to Angel Stadium.  The push for expansion toward the hotels, likely means an improved Eastern Gateway Bridge from the city's perspective.  

It's a shrewd business move, particularly in a depressed economy. With the friendlier city council, it will be likely something Disney can accomplish.

I'm particularly interested in watching its development, because it ticks several boxes that I suggested in my If I Were Disney CEO - Disneyland Resort blog.  Expansion of Gene Autry Way.  The use of the proposed third park location for parking and hotels.  A greater expansion of Downtown Disney.  The likely need for buying the Anaheim GardenWalk as a connector to the space.

I'll definitely be keeping my eyes and "mouse ears" on this one.

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