A few hours after the gates swing open at Disneyland and Disney California Adventure, the cars are still pouring into the massive 10,241-space parking garage.
They zoom into the six-story concrete structure, carloads of costumed kids, foreign tourists and graying baby boomers sporting Mickey Mouse ears, “Frozen” dresses and “Star Wars” backpacks.
The cash pours in too: Each vehicle pays $20 to park at the Mickey & Friends facility, $35 for a preferred space close to the escalators and elevators.
Even if the parking garage fills just half its spaces, it would still generate more than $35 million in annual revenue and easily hundreds of millions of dollars over the life of the structure.
That money all goes to Walt Disney Co. The city of Anaheim, which owns the garage and spent $108.2 million to build it, charges the company just $1 a year for the lease.
More than 20 years after Anaheim agreed to pay for the parking facility as part of Disneyland Resort’s expansion, it has become a symbol of the city’s complicated and increasingly tense relationship with its biggest and most powerful corporate citizen.
Over the last two decades or so, as Disney’s annual profit has soared, the company has secured subsidies, incentives, rebates and protections from future taxes in Anaheim that, in aggregate, would be worth more than $1 billion, according to public policy experts who have reviewed deals between the company and the city.
Disney has negotiated these pacts with a carrot-and-stick approach — one that has often included the company’s threat of directing its investment dollars elsewhere. The agreements have spurred development of billion-dollar projects, including the California Adventure theme park and the forthcoming Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge area at Disneyland.
The Burbank company masterfully works the political system, sometimes deploying aggressive strategies that belie its carefully cultivated image. Support for various deals benefiting Disney has come from Anaheim City Council members who have received generous campaign contributions through a byzantine network of political action committees funded by the company.
But now, for the first time in Disneyland’s 62-year history, the entertainment giant is facing serious opposition from Anaheim politicians, including Mayor Tom Tait, who feel that the recent guarantees in particular were too much. The city’s finances are squeezed for a variety of reasons — it has, for example, unfunded pension liabilities of $590 million. Despite the tens of millions of dollars in tax revenue and high-profile benefits that Disney brings to Anaheim, some of the city’s working-class residents said they don’t see enough of the upside.
In a letter to The Times, Disney challenged that view. “Disneyland Resort has played a pivotal role in Anaheim as a job creator and economic engine,” the company said, noting that it is committed to investing more than $2 billion there in the next decade.
Faced with growing criticism inside City Hall, last year Disney stepped up its local political spending, contributing $1.22 million to 10 PACs that were involved in the November election, according to an analysis of campaign finance disclosures by The Times. The PACs, most of which also spent money on elections outside Anaheim, received funds from multiple sources, though Disney was often a significant donor.