Disneyland has unveiled long-term plans for theme park, retail and parking expansion as the Anaheim theme park prepares to work with the city to reimagine what the resort district will look like over the next couple decades.
DisneylandForward is Disney’s effort to work with the city to grow the Disneyland resort, update the blueprint for the resort district and propel Anaheim’s economic rebound following the COVID-19 pandemic.
Disney will be asking the city over the next weeks and months for more flexibility in how it develops company land planned for specific uses in the 1990s to be able to add a mix of theme park, hotel, retail, dining and entertainment on the eastern and western edges of the Disneyland resort. The overall footprint of the resort area would not increase in size.
Jeanette Lomboy, Disneyland portfolio executive for Walt Disney Imagineering, said during a media briefing on Thursday, March 25 that the DisneylandForward plan includes what could be possible in the future at the Disneyland resort with more flexibility and approvals from the city.
“Because of the current rigid district structure, we just need more flexibility,” Lomboy said. “We’re excited about the possibilities and ready to dream. Believe me, we have no shortage of ideas, content or stories to tell or build.”
The Immersive Theme Park west-side expansion envisions a theme park on the Downtown Disney and Lilo and Stitch parking lots woven amid the Disneyland Hotel and Paradise Pier Hotel.
Disney officials described the west-side site bounded by Katella Avenue, Walnut Street, Magic Way and Disneyland Drive as more of a theme park expansion than a new “third gate.”
Concept art of the west-side site shows a central mountain surrounded by water with buildings interspersed on the south end of the property. A mountain ridge to the west separates the theme park from nearby neighborhoods.
The west-side site links up with Downtown Disney near the unused AMC Theater and ESPN Zone.
Concept art of the northern end of the west-side site includes an Autopia-like car course and a Dumbo-like spinning ride.
The Disney Entertainment Destination east-side expansion would bring together theme park experiences, hotels, retail, dining and entertainment on the Toy Story parking lot next to the Anaheim Convention Center.
The east-side site on the 56-acre Fujishige strawberry-farm-turned-Disney-parking-lot has long been discussed as a possible “third gate” for future theme park expansion.
Concept art of the east-side retail area features a central lagoon surrounded by shops and a low-rise hotel with a parking structure near the corner of Katella Avenue and Haster Street.
“What we do know today is that guests need and want more,” Lomboy said. “In order to give guests what they want, we need more flexibility here in Anaheim. Guests are demanding immersive integrated experiences that are not singular in their uses. We no longer think of uses as separate. Retail, dining, entertainment, theme parks and hotels are all part of the same experiences in the same place. And we need the space in our lands to create story-rich environments.”
The DisneylandForward plan also includes possible new parking along Disney Way.
However, the company’s ambitions will need to be signed off by Anaheim leaders after a back-and-forth planning process that’s expected to last two years before final decisions are made.
Anaheim spokesman Mike Lyster said the city at this point is receptive to updating the zoning around the Disneyland resort and the surrounding tourist district around Harbor Boulevard and Katella Avenue. Rezoning in the 1990s cleared a path for the construction of Disney California Adventure, Downtown Disney and the massive Mickey & Friends Parking Structure.
But restricting land to single uses is seen as outdated as urban planners consider how tourists in 2021 want to be immersed in their destination.
“The easiest way to think about it is we would work with them to look at flexibility, to look at how sites are used under that planning,” Lyster said. “Right now, under the plan, you might have an area designated as ‘hotel,’ you might have another designated as ‘entertainment.’”
Going forward, Disney is looking for “mixed-use” flexibility, Lyster said. “On the same parcel, you’d have a hotel and entertainment, as opposed to two different parcels.”
For example, Disney could build up it’s Toy Story parking lot on Katella Avenue — which is currently being used as a mass coronavirus vaccination site — into a hotel, for which the land is already zoned.
“But with more flexible planning, it could perhaps also house entertainment uses,” which could add sales taxes to future revenue, Lyster said.
While a section of Disneyland’s back lot was recently transformed for the 2019 opening of a new land, Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, the company has hit roadblocks for other park-adjacent projects.
In 2017, plans for a seven-story parking structure, transportation hub and pedestrian crossing over Harbor Boulevard linking them to the theme parks were scrapped after nearby hotels and restaurants protested the potential loss of foot traffic and the city’s receptiveness to a footbridge was in question.
Disney pivoted its focus to building a luxury hotel in Downtown Disney, but the hotel was shelved the following year amid an impasse with the city on tax incentives.
The trials of the past pandemic year and the effect on the city’s tourism bloc aren’t lost on the City Council, which voted Tuesday to shore up a $108 million deficit by borrowing up to $210 million.
“In the past year, we have seen what the Disneyland Resort means to Anaheim’s economy and the role it plays in helping us provide vital public services for our residents, neighborhoods and businesses,” Mayor Harry Sidhu said in a statement.
“I welcome fresh thinking about how the Disneyland Resort evolves and how we best maximize this resource for our city,” Sidhu said.
Such rethinking is apparent in plans to rebuild areas around Angel Stadium and the Honda Center into mixed-use blocks of apartments, offices, shops, restaurants and other entertainment over the next decade.
“We see all three complimenting each other,” Lyster said. “We see it as our path to economic recovery in years to come.”
The DisneylandForward presentation included concept art from Disney theme park projects around the globe that provide a “flavor” of what future expansion could look like at the Disneyland resort. The projects presented by Lomboy included the Tangled, Frozen and Peter Pan themed lands coming to Tokyo Disneyland in Japan, the Zootopia themed land, Disneytown retail district and the Tron roller coaster at Shanghai Disneyland in China and Toy Story Land and Disney Springs shopping district at Walt Disney World in Florida.
“We’re not announcing anything specific today as part of DisneylandForward,” Lomboy said. “These kinds of projects should give you a flavor of the types of industry-defining integrated experiences and story-rich lands that we want to bring to Anaheim.”
Disneyland has “only dipped into less than half” of the millions of square feet of theme park and hotel space that has already been approved for the resort district, according to Disney officials.
The DisneylandForward conceptual development plan stays within Disney’s existing 500-acre property in Anaheim with no physical expansion or additional acreage.
“We’re not changing the size of the toast, we’re just spreading the peanut butter around,” according to a Disney official.
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