What Does Disneyland REALLY Want With Their DisneylandForward Project?

Recently Disneyland announced their DisneylandForward project. Yesterday, we debunked the headlines most of you have read by now that Disneyland is building a third gate. However, if it’s not a third gate, what is it? What was the point? What can we learn from the concept art and why was it so confusing to understand?

First of all, most of the confusion comes from clickbait headlines that mention a third gate. More often than not, people get their news from headlines and memes these days. So I get the confusion. However, you come to Theme Park University for answers. You’re welcome.

In reality, there was nothing sexy about the DisneylandForward news conference. There are no concrete plans of park expansion, much less what films and characters they could represent. Just a few suggestuons. No concrete plans of hotels, shopping or dining either. You must be asking yourself, then why present concept art at all?

The answer is salesmanship. When you buy a package of Pop-Tarts, despite the package having a picture of strawberries, don’t expect any loose fruit floating around when you open it. (Tip of the hat to Paula Poundstone for that observation). Anyway, the point is – just like the strawberries on a Pop-Tarts package, the concept art at the DisneylandForward press conference is just a suggestion. Please don’t take it too seriously. Plus, it’s not even close to being approved yet.

In this case, if Disney gets what they want, you will indeed get more “Disney” in the long run. What does that mean? It’s whatever they want it to be.

Have you ever driven past a sign that says a certain lot is for sale for commercial use? However, it says something like “office or bank” or “retail” or “medical”? Most counties designate certain plots of land or zones to be used for a specific purpose. Why? Well imagine someone buying the house next to yours, tearing it down and building a Wal-Mart. For some that would be a dream, while others would want some distance between the noise/traffic and your residence.

Likewise, imagine if the city just let any commercial land get zoned for anything someone can afford. Therefore, you could end up with a county that has 300 doctor’s offices and no gas stations. Abundant choices for your primary care physician, but terrible when you have to go elsewhere to fill up your tank.

Currently, the city of Anaheim has approved each individual building and it’s use before constructed started. Meaning, Disney would approach the city of Anaheim and say “we want to build a dining/shopping district on our property called Downtown Disney. We want these spaces marked with an X to be dining, these with a Y as retail and the ones with a Z to be entertainment such as bowling or a movie theater.” Then they go back and forth on how they think tourists and the city can benefit from that. They make sure there is ample parking and proper roadways to access the new proposal outside of the property and so on.

Want to know who doesn’t have this kind of red tape? Walt Disney World. Because of the Reedy Creek Improvement District which was set up before the property opened in 1971, they get to decide what is the best use of their land (within reason). Still, this is what Disneyland (and all other large resort properties) wish they had. Total autonomy to use their land in whatever manner they desire. Ultimately, as long as they choose correctly, they will make more money for themselves as well as the local economy and bring in taxes.

You may recall a plan in 2017 to put a new parking garage at the Pinocchio lot in Disneyland. This would free up some space to build a new hotel that Disney wanted to build in the Downtown Disney district. Both ideas got shut down due to Orange County saying no to the proposal after local businesses said it would cut down foot traffic to their shops and restaurants.

Hopefully this is making more sense now. Just in case, let me drive it home with a short inspired speech on what Disney probably wishes they could have said at their Disneyland Forward press conference.

Listen my babies. 2020 was a hard year for everyone, wasn’t it? With no Disneyland Resort bringing in tourists to the Anaheim area, we’ve all suffered. Restaurants along Harbor Boulevard have been dead, hotels outside of Disneyland have been at their lowest occupancy rates in decades and the county has been hit from that lack of tourist dollars.

Hey, remember those plans that were shelved about expanding our parking garage and adding a new hotel? Yea, we weren’t thrilled about the outcome of that decision. We’ve moved on. Now we aren’t asking for permission to build a hotel or a parking garage… or anything specific really. We’re asking for the right to build whatever we want on our land (within reason) that will end up helping earn tax dollars and also still boost local businesses.

You know, maybe a parcel for just a hotel no longer works for us. What if we want to expand part of our theme park and build an indoor land on the lower 3 levels and build a hotel on top of it? You cool with that? Not saying we will, but what if we wanted to?

Look, the point is, why don’t you give us the keys to our own land. We’ve been here since 1955 and clearly are an asset to the city of Anaheim. You’ll benefit from it and so will we. What do ya say?

Now maybe you’re thinking “that sounds like a great idea! I can’t wait to see what Disney can do when they are no longer handcuffed by local government!” Hang on, partner. How would you feel if you were… I dunno… a local shopping center in Anaheim that wants to build a parking deck and expand your retail/dining area? What if you asked the city for permission and they denied it? Yet Disneyland can do whatever they want. How would you feel?

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