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How will DisneylandForward affect the Anaheim resort district?

The Anaheim Resort District attracts tens of millions of visitors yearly, bolstering the city’s $2 billion budget, and it’s poised to undergo significant growth should the City Council approve Disney’s new development  plans at its April 16 meeting.

Dubbed DisneylandForward, Disney’s vision for how it could transform under-used portions of its property would lure even more visitors “for generations to come,” company officials say, and create thousands more jobs in the city’s 1,100-acre resort district, which fuels dozens of hotels, restaurants and other attractions outside the theme parks gates, including the city-owned convention center.

While they’ve been concerned in recent years about some Disney development plans cutting off their access to vacationers, many business owners in the resort district believe the DisneylandForward project, which will commit the company to investing at least $1.9 billion into its Anaheim destination, will be good for their bottom line as well.

“The idea is exciting. The idea of development is exciting,” said Dara Maleki, a restaurateur who owns The Pizza Press on Harbor Boulevard. “We’ve seen in the past when they created new lands, it has created more traffic and arguably more business within the resort.”

Theme park changes

The City Council on Tuesday, April 16 will consider the DisneylandForward project, which would give Disney flexibility for where on its property it builds more theme park attractions and visitor amenities, likely taking its entertainment space up to the resort’s western boundary and turning the Toy Story lot on Harbor Boulevard into a destination.

Maleki said the Anaheim of the early 1990s – the last time the city and Disney came to an agreement to govern development at its theme parks – has changed significantly.

The resort area has exploded in recent years. In 1992, almost a decade before Disney California Adventure and Downtown Disney opened, the city was collecting around $30 million a year from hotel taxes. Now, with not only the second theme park open but the additions of Cars Land, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and Avengers Campus, the city is taking in more than $220 million a year from taxes on hotel room rates.

Disney is already permitted to build more, but wishes to do it in areas it can’t currently throughout the resort. Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock has teased there are “remarkable, integrated experiences” the company has been able to build around the world, from popular films such as “Zootopia” and “Frozen,” that could come to Anaheim.

The DisneylandForward approach makes sense for a landlocked theme park that has used its limited footprint to the best of its ability, according to Dennis Speigel, an industry expert with International Theme Park Services, which advises theme parks on their operations.



“They’ve needed a facelift for a while,” Speigel said. “What they’re looking at doing makes a lot of sense.”

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure attracted an estimated 25.9 million visitors in 2022, according to a report from the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM.

Speigel estimates attendance at the Disneyland resort could increase to 40 million to 50 million within 10 to 15 years if Disney built everything in the DisneylandForward proposal. And that jump in attendance would fuel an increase in revenue and per capita spending by visitors, he said.

A summary of a study completed for Disney by professors at Cal State Fullerton found that when Disney invests $1 billion into the resort that results in an uptick in the city’s hotel tax revenue as off-site hotels accommodate an increase in attendance. Employment in the resort district is also expected to grow dramatically. Right now, the resort area employs around 30,000 people. DisneylandForward, if approved, would add 9,000 more Disneyland Resort employees once it’s built, and thousands of more indirect jobs.

“Anaheim would be very remiss if they didn’t jump on this bandwagon with Disney and let them move forward,” Speigel said. “This will be the biggest influx of people and revenues to Anaheim that they’ve seen since 1955.”

The long-term planning proposal doesn’t layout specific new attractions or themes, but dangles possible projects based on “Frozen,” “Zootopia,” “Tangled,” “Avatar,” and other Disney films.

A new Frozen-themed land like the World of Arendelle at Hong Kong Disneyland likely costs about $300 million to build, according to Speigel.

In the single concept rendering released by Disney the Downtown Disney and Lilo and Stitch parking lots disappear and new lands and amenities are woven amid the Disneyland Hotel and Pixar Place Hotel.

Disney officials describe that area, bounded by Katella Avenue, Walnut Street, Magic Way and Disneyland Drive, as more of a theme park expansion than a new “third gate.”

Expansion on the eastside would bring together theme park experiences, hotels, retail, dining and entertainment on the Toy Story parking lot next to the Anaheim Convention Center.

Concept art 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.

Harbor Boulevard access remains

To free up the space for all that new magic, a 17,600-space parking structure would be built on the eastern edge of the resort. It would connect to the theme parks via a pedestrian bridge over Harbor Boulevard.

Visitors to the theme parks would still be able to flow in and out at Harbor Boulevard and visit the restaurants or hotels nearby once the bridge is built, said Joe Haupt, a consultant for Disney – access those businesses have called vital.

Angela El Haj co-owns the restaurants Calaca Mamas Cantina and IHOP on Harbor Boulevard, across the street from a drop-off point for passengers and where pedestrians can enter the theme park. There’s a premium for leasing business space across the street from the theme parks, she said, and she believes the DisneylandForward expansion will bring more eyes to Anaheim.

“More people will come into Anaheim,” El Haj said. “We want to make sure businesses on Harbor bring in a lot of people. We are all franchises, mom-and-pop. Our only concern is that we don’t get alienated.”

Disney scuttled plans in 2017 for an Eastern Gateway, which would have built a 6,900-space parking structure and security-screening entry point and added a pedestrian bridge over Harbor. Local merchants fought it, arguing it wouldn’t allow easy access to surrounding businesses for people entering and exiting the theme parks.

There were early concerns, El Haj said, that businesses on Harbor would get alienated and suffocated out of business if Disney had moved forward with making it harder for pedestrians leaving the theme park to get to their businesses.

“It’s been years in the making, and I’m optimistic that we have come to a general consensus that this will be the best way for Disney to move forward,” she said now.

Haupt said pedestrian access points are a new obligation for Disney in the project. Those pedestrian access points would be at Harbor Boulevard, Ball Road, Katella Avenue and the new developments east of Harbor at the parking garage and Toy Story Lot.

Greg Eisenman, who manages two hotels on Harbor Boulevard, said the project is exciting, though the more than 300 rooms he oversees are already “running in the high 80% occupancy.”

Eisenman said with the increased number of guests expected to come into the theme parks, he would like to see an increased number of hotels, which would benefit the city’s hotel tax and support services for residents.

Anaheim has around 180 hotels, half of which are in the resort district, according to a fact sheet from the city. More hotels continue to be built and will open in the next few years as traveler demand continues to climb.

But Disney is expected to build more of its own hotels that would keep guests on its property. The goal in the theme park industry right now is keeping guests inside the “theme park destination resort,” said John Gerner, managing director for Leisure Business Advisors. Those vacationers tend to spend more, Gerner said.

“People want to stay close to the theme parks,” Gerner said. “The Disney hotels tend to have higher occupancy and room rates and they tend to be more profitable than the theme parks.”

Source: Orange County Register

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