June 22, 2024

DisneylandForward Development Proposal Approved by Anaheim City Council

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DisneylandForward has been approved by the Anaheim City Council in a 7-0 vote as part of a meeting that started Tuesday night and ended early Wednesday morning following a lengthy public comment section. This covers




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DisneylandForward has been approved by the Anaheim City Council in a 7-0 vote as part of a meeting that started Tuesday night and ended early Wednesday morning following a lengthy public comment section. This covers highlights of the meeting and what Disney has promised as part of its 10-year plan that will bring new theme park, retail, and parking expansion to California.

For those who are unfamiliar with it, DisneylandForward is a development plan giving Disney more autonomy about what to build on land already owned by the company. To that end, it proposes updates to the blueprint for the resort district, in exchange for Disney helping further fuel the city’s economic expansion.

DisneylandForward does not involve the company acquiring additional property–it stays within Disney’s existing 500-acre footprint in Anaheim with no physical expansion or additional acreage. In actuality, DisneylandForward is the company’s pitch to the public and City of Anaheim for more flexibility in the master plans from the 1990s in order to give the company greater autonomy over what to build and where. The goal is to avoid a repeat of what happened in ~2017-2018, when the city and area businesses effectively blocked construction of a new luxury hotel and parking structure.

We’re not going to fixate on what’s happened with DisneylandForward in the last few years. Suffice to say, it’s been a long time coming, both before and after its official announcement. Last month, the proposal cleared one of its final hurdles with approval by the Anaheim Planning Commission, which voted 5-1 in favor of the proposal. With that recommendation coupled with a Disney-friendly city government, it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that DisneylandForward would be rubber stamped by the full Anaheim City Council. And it was.

The Anaheim City Council approved the DisneylandForward proposal in a unanimous vote. The Council’s vote provides initial approval of DisneylandForward with a second, procedural vote expected at the next meeting on May 7, 2024. If approved at that time, the DisneylandForward proposal would require another 30 days for changes to take effect.

The 7-0 vote came after over three and a half hours of public comment from 84 public speakers, with 57 in favor, 24 against, and 3 who just wanted to get up there and share their thoughts on the world. The public comment portion of the meeting was, uh, interesting. If you’ve seen the show Parks & Rec, you know how these types of meetings tend to go.

The commenters ranged from lifelong Disney employees to diehard Disneyland fans to disgruntled locals with legitimate concerns to complete weirdos. Those categories are not mutually exclusive. All voiced their opinions on everything from prices to traffic to heartwarming stories from Cast Members meant to make residents feel good about supporting DisneylandForward.

All said more or less what you’d expect. The prominent Disney employees and Cast Members in attendance were obviously supportive of DisneylandForward. They wouldn’t have been there if that weren’t the case. And of course, any meeting like this is going to have its fair share of NIMBYs who want to delay any development.

Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock also spoke again during the meeting addressing both the Anaheim City Council and residents. This was basically a repeat of what he said during the previous Anaheim Planning Commission meeting. In fact, pretty much everything here was a repeat of that, except longer. (Or so it seemed.)

Potrock ask Anaheim to “be bold, to dream, to believe, and to lead” and approve DisneylandForward so the company could create new jobs and revenue for the city, plus new experiences for fans and guests. The company has highlighted Zootopia in Shanghai Disneyland, World of Frozen in Hong Kong Disneyland, and Fantasy Springs at Tokyo DisneySea as among the lands the company could build as part of DisneylandForward.

Critically, DisneylandForward also does not commit to building any specific new theme park lands or rides. There’s been a lot of reference to possible expansion based on Wakanda, Zootopia, Frozen, Fantasy Springs, Tangled, Peter Pan, Toy Story and TRON. These are merely blue sky examples that have been pulled from other parks around the world.

Even the Avatar Experience Coming to Disneyland is not necessarily part of the DisneylandForward land. There are a lot of fans assuming that Disney intends to build this in the area encompassed by DisneylandForward, back by Pixar Place Hotel and Disneyland Hotel. You can even sort of line up the recently-released concept art with the Environmental Impact Report for DisneylandForward, leading some to surmise that Pandora will be part of an expansion of the existing gates and not replace an existing land.

I’m somewhat skeptical of that. For one thing, the Environmental Impact Report is meaningless. That was a necessary prerequisite to approval. You can’t do a report on the environmental impact of “imagine the possibilities,” so they put placeholders there–just like the concept art of DisneylandForward as a whole. It’s a lot easier to just take plans that have already been made and drop them into such a report rather than make new (fake) plans for that purpose.

The unfortunate reality is that there’s no building all–or even most–of what’s in the Environmental Impact Report for only $2.5 billion, which is the amount Disney has agreed to invest as part of DisneylandForward. My guess is that most of the near and medium-term expansion will be confined largely to the two existing gates, where Disney could easily be able to invest several billion dollars in the next decade.

My guess is also that the actual plans for DisneylandForward call for clones from Walt Disney World, which is far less sexy or exciting than ‘exotic’ additions from international parks that most Americans will never visit. The big exception to that is World of Frozen in Paris and Hong Kong. I fully believe a third version of that is slated for California.

Nevertheless, Disney knows exactly what’s planned should DisneylandForward be approved. The company has stated as much, and appears to be holding back details on purpose, just teasing enough to get fans excited. This suggests an announcement isn’t that far off. As we’ve suggested in other posts, it seems like Disney is withholding investment–or even announcing plans–in California as a bargaining chip for DisneylandForward approval. But that’ll happen by the 2024 D23 Expo!

When it comes to the amount of the spending, Disney previously detailed the investment commitments as part of DisneylandForward. If approved, the company would promise a minimum of $1.9 billion invested in Disneyland Resort over the next decade. If investment doesn’t reach $2.5 billion in 10 years, Disney would pay an additional $5 million for street and transportation improvements.

For those of you who have been skeptical about Disney’s past statements about “turbocharging” growth in the parks, this should be reassuring. This is no longer simply hollow hype. If approved, this development deal with Anaheim legally obligates Disney to spend at least $1.9 billion to $2.5 billion in the next decade.

If Disney actually does intend upon actual expansion on the DisneylandForward plots in the next decade, the company will probably spend much more. I’d love to be wrong about the Environmental Impact Report and have it represent the actual plan for Pandora and other lands. If so, that’s probably more like $5 billion worth of investment.

Even if investment is confined to the existing footprints (or thereabouts–expansion into the Esplanade is always possible) of the parks, it could easily surpass $2.5 billion. There’s a lot that Disneyland could redevelop and reimagine, from Tomorrowland to the Hollywood Backlot.

With that said, given that the penalty is peanuts and not enough to incentivize spending, I think calling this a ~$2 billion commitment is probably more apt than $2.5 billion. My bet is that Disney wants to invest the full $2.5 billion and has a plan to do so, but won’t follow through with the final $600 if the economic environment is unfavorable. It’s worth a $5 million hit to save $595 million in such a scenario.

This multi-billion investment would go towards theme park attractions, entertainment, lodging, shopping and dining–including expansion west of Disneyland Drive and replacing the current Toy Story Parking Area. The amount does NOT include investments in parking, road improvements, or bridges.

This is important because Disney could easily spend several hundred millions of dollars on infrastructure if DisneylandForward is approved. They have big plans on that front, and the company has been salivating at the prospects of reworking infrastructure since around 2017. So when all is said and done, this probably amounts to an all-in investment by Disney of $3 billion.

If you look back at the last decade (Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge), the one before that (Cars Land & DCA overhaul), or the one before that (original DCA construction), I think you’d find that ~$2 billion is about the norm for a decade of investment at Disneyland. So unless you assumed the company would otherwise slow its spending on the California parks, this $2 to $2.5 billion mostly represents the status quo.

However, it’s fair to say that Disney otherwise would’ve started to slow down on spending at Disneyland, especially after encountering so much resistance from the city on projects greenlit after Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Without an updated master plan and more autonomy, maybe Disney determines it’s not worth it to investment billions of dollars per decade into Disneyland–too much uncertainty, friction, and potential for projects to fail prior to approval.

Locking in a minimum of $1.9 billion in spending outside of infrastructure plus other deal sweeteners in exchange for giving Disney more certainty strikes me as a win-win for the company and city. It’s easy to be cynical about this, calling it “only” about as much investment as Disney was spending since Cars Land and Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge.

However, those (and everything in between) were massively transformative projects for Disneyland Resort that have already helped transform the California parks into a bonafide vacation destination, while also fueling major growth beyond the berm and throughout the city. If I’m Anaheim and can get Disney to commit to another decade of that–I take that deal in a heartbeat.

Planning a Southern California vacation? For park admission deals, read Tips for Saving Money on Disneyland Tickets. Learn about on-site and off-site hotels in our Anaheim Hotel Reviews & Rankings. For where to eat, check out our Disneyland Restaurant Reviews. For unique ideas of things that’ll improve your trip, check out What to Pack for Disney. For comprehensive advice, consult our Disneyland Vacation Planning Guide. Finally, for guides beyond Disney, check out our Southern California Itineraries for day trips to Los Angeles, Laguna Beach, and many other SoCal cities!

YOUR THOUGHTS

What do you think about the DisneylandForward proposal? Excited and optimistic about this news that the city council approved it, or still think Disney isn’t committing to enough in Anaheim? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback–even when you disagree with us–is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!




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