Imagine entering Disneyland and today not only see the Sleeping Beauty Castle and all the lands in the park, but also Arendelle from “Frozen”, Neverland from “Peter Pan” or even the grid from “Tron”.
Nowadays this is almost impossible due to geographical zone restrictions. However, if Anaheim agrees to the DisneylandForward initiative, the resort could face a massive expansion that would include new lots in the park, new hotels, and a significantly expanded Downtown Disney District.
“Thinking big and leading the way is both our legacy and our best path forward,” said Disneyland President Ken Potrock on the DisneylandForward website. “Now is the time to be brave, dream, believe and lead! Disneyland Resort is poised to create new jobs and revenue for our community, as well as new, immersive entertainment and experiences for loyal fans and new audiences for generations to come.”
The company’s planned expansion doesn’t really expand Disneyland’s presence in Anaheim. Rather, it calls for a reallocation of land and a relaxation of the restrictions introduced by the city in the 1990s to allow for more flexible construction and overall planning.
“While these plans resulted in significant improvements throughout the Anaheim resort, their ‘traditional’ district/zone approach does not enable the diverse, integrated experiences that theme park goers are now seeking, severely limiting Disney’s ability to continue investing in Anaheim,” so the DisneylandForward page reads. “Nowadays hotel, amusement park, retail and gastronomy are part of a comprehensive experience. Guests expect that the future of entertainment will seamlessly connect all uses in a way that was hard to imagine more than 25 years ago, when the city made these concrete plans.”
In the plan, Disney announced the construction of lands themed “Frozen”, “Peter Pan”, “Tangled”, “Zootopia”, “Tron” and “Toy Story”. But more broadly, the plan calls for a more integrated experience, with better transportation systems, a merger of hotels and parks, and an expanded shopping and dining area in Downtown Disney that resembles Disney Springs at Walt Disney World. The Orlando version features live entertainment such as concerts and Cirque du Soleil, attractions, and themed dining and shopping (including a secret “Indiana Jones” bar).
Concept art on the Disneyland Forward website! #Disneyland #DisneylandForward pic.twitter.com/6X2kgXv0Fj
— FoodAtDisneyland (@foodatdisney) March 25, 2021
The proposal is expected to be submitted for official approval in early 2024.
“Ultimately, it will be a decision by our city council,” Mike Lyster, the City of Anaheim’s chief communications officer, told SFGATE. “But we’re interested in looking into it because every time the theme parks grow, that brings us new revenue.”
“Basically, half of the revenue we use for libraries, community centers, police and fire departments comes from visitors,” Lyster explained. “And of course the theme parks are our biggest visitor attraction. So it goes without saying that we would be interested in taking a look because it would help us do what we do.”
Essentially, Lyster explained, Disneyland has only developed about 40% of what it could develop with the land it currently owns — but development on the rest is constrained by what type of structure was built after the 1990s Anaheim set guidelines for where to go prior to the construction of Disney California Adventure Parks and Downtown Disney.
“We too, as a city, need to be careful to ensure that the land within our city is maximized and that our residents get the maximum benefit from it, even if it’s privately owned,” he added. “Some of the land we are talking about now could be considered underutilized. Most of it now serves as a parking lot, and parking is important, but it could certainly be more productive land if it actually hosted theme park-style attractions, or a new hotel, or entertainment and dining options. Suddenly, parking spaces that don’t really bring in much to the city are generating more revenue for us, whether it’s through hotel tax revenue, property taxes or sales taxes.”
Though Lyster couldn’t provide actual numbers, he did point out that Disney is the largest taxpayer for sales tax, property tax, and hotel tax in the city. Unlike the Mickey and Friends garage project, there will be no public bond or city funding for DisneylandForward.
This isn’t the first time Disneyland has proposed a massive expansion. The last, in 1991, featured Westcot, a West Coast version of Epcot. Disney faced massive backlash from Anaheim residents. Concerned citizens launched a television campaign against the development, citing concerns about property values and the impacted quality of life. Anaheim HOME (Home Owners Maintaining Their Environment) even went so far as to call for a boycott of Disneyland. The company compromised and narrowed the scope of the project—but faced with the financial losses associated with the less than stellar opening of Euro Disney in 1992, the company scrapped Westcot in favor of the less expensive Disney California Adventure Park.
I think we all know what the DisneylandForward project should have looked like pic.twitter.com/XhmMWoIDrp
– Alea (@aleacabri) January 3, 2022
This time, Disney is leading and trying to encourage community approval. To showcase the concept and address community concerns, the company hosts a series of “Community Coffee” events. Disney representatives hold open houses at public parks and serve free coffee and donuts. Anyone who has questions or concerns can raise them. Some things have already happened; Several more are planned through August, and Disney will be present at a series of city-sponsored concerts this summer.
Part of this conversation revolves around ongoing community support. DisneylandForward’s plan, according to its website, is to employ unionized contractors, prioritize hiring Anaheim residents at a living wage (including special provisions for veterans and to promote diversity), advocate for affordable housing, and participate in a program for… investing in human resource development.
DisneylandForward was originally announced two years ago, and the company now needs to win hearts and minds through public relations before a city council vote is scheduled for early 2024. Still, the timing of the public campaign for this planned expansion may not be exactly coincidental.
The Walt Disney Company is suing Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for alleged retaliation against the company for publicly disagreeing with one of its policies. With thousands of jobs and billions of dollars in tax revenue at stake if DeSantis stops Disney from investing further in Orlando, Disney must show the benefits it brings to its hometown.