For years now, I have read dozens of articles speculating where when and what a fifth theme park might be at Walt Disney World. Throughout 2014, most links I clicked on speculated that we might be seeing a Star Wars theme park, due to several comments CEO Bob Iger has made about seeing an increased presence of the franchise in Disney parks in the not-so-distant future.
Not only did Iger never mention that Star Wars would get its own park, there has been zero mention of adding a fifth gate to Walt Disney World in any sort of official capacity. That’s because it’s already being built and has been under construction for some time now.
Over 40 years ago, the Lake Buena Shopping Village opened where Downtown Disney/Disney Springs currently sits. What was once a small handful of shops and restaurants grew into something much larger. In 1989, Pleasure Island was added to that complex, not only more than doubling its size, but turned it into more of a destination where you could shop by day, dine by evening and then dance and party your way into the wee hours of the morning.
In 1997, the area was re-branded yet again when it added the West Side, which included Disneyquest, Cirque du Soleil: La Nouba, and several more shops and restaurants. Even when Pleasure Island closed in September 2008, Downtown Disney was still extremely popular. While theme park purists might scoff at the idea of spending an entire day of an Orlando vacation to go shopping, this is quite common amongst tourists and has been for years.
Many shopping districts in Orlando benefit from tourists as entire busses will drop off large groups on a daily basis. Shopping centers can bring in anywhere from 20 to 35 million tourists per year in Orlando. Granted, while they may only visit for an hour or maybe the entire day, that number is enormous and Disney clearly wants a piece of the action and that is their history.
Mission Space is a direct answer to having Kennedy Space Center down the road, The Living Seas might take business away from Sea World and Disney’s Animal Kingdom could deter people from going to Busch Gardens. Pleasure Island was designed to compete with Church Street Station in Downtown Orlando. Now Disney Springs will end up competing with Orlando Premium Outlets and other shopping and dining locations like Pointe Orlando and the Florida Mall. None of those are a coincidence and they were all strategic moves to try and keep tourists from going anywhere else but Disney.
For the last few years after Pleasure Island closed, Downtown Disney suffered a period of zero growth simply due to the fact that they were land locked in how much space they had to expand and more importantly, the parking situation. Even if they managed to add new stores where former clubs at Pleasure Island once sat, there were only so many parking spots available so the trigger was pulled to add parking garages. From there, if you add more parking spaces, you can add more capacity and expand your offerings to bring in more revenue.
Considering how much money is being poured into infrastructure, it was when Disney decided to add all these additional features that Disney Springs essentially became Walt Disney World’s fifth park. Don’t believe me? Let’s look at the facts…
When completed, the parking garages alone will cost an estimated $360 million, which includes a new exit ramp from I-4. That’s right, Disney felt that Disney Springs needed its own dedicated ramp to accommodate the 6,000 cars that can now be parked in the garages, with additional spaces located behind Cirque Du Soleil and near World of Disney. In contrast, Disney’s Hollywood Studios parking lot can take on 6,500 cars.
In addition to the $360 million, there is a ton of money being spent to add new restrooms, walkways, electrical, plumbing and more that is coming out of Disney’s pocket. While the number hasn’t been released to the public (plus the tenants will be footing some of this cost to move into their respective new locations), it’s fair to speculate that the amount of money Disney is spending to create Disney Springs well exceeds the $500 million mark.
Granted, that number is roughly half of what it cost to build Animal Kingdom, but there is still plenty of infrastructure that is staying just as it is when Disney Springs fully opens in 2016. I must also point out that when Disney (or any company of its size) spends that kind of money, the odds of them spending an additional billion or so on a fifth theme park anytime soon not only doesn’t seem feasible, it doesn’t make any sense. I’m not saying that Disney Springs is a theme park in the traditional sense, but I am saying it will be able to hold nearly as many people and potentially generate as much revenue as an actual park.
I’m not saying a sixth theme park won’t happen (yes, I am counting Disney Springs as the fifth park), but just don’t hold your breath for it to happen anytime soon. All these rumors floating around don’t really add up to a lot of sense and in the end, Walt Disney World is getting a fifth gate, just not one that most theme park fans want. Your thoughts?
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