Most Disney fans know about the new park being built in Shanghai, China.Shanghai Disneyland

The hardcore fan knows that Disney World’s Downtown is being urban-renewal’d into Disney Springs, and that Hollywood Studios is experiencing the same, with much speculation on which of Disney’s “Hollywood” properties might share the new limelight.WDW Disney Springs 6678466SMALL

But Disneyland? That’s an afterthought. It’s small, landlocked, almost stuck in the 1950s and 60s.  Sure, California Adventure opened, and took a decade of growing pains to finally become successful. Cars Land has added lots of glamour and fun. It’s a rare urban amusement park which offers a lot of entertainment in a small area, while not feeling too overloaded.

Two weeks right before Comic-Con, Disney announced plans to spend $1 Billion in attractions and improvements (including a 5,000-car parking garage). In exchange, the City of Anaheim will not tax amusement park tickets for the next 30 years. (The current 20-year agreement expires June 2016.)

Disney is also in an arms race with Universal Studios, which is importing many of their attractions from Orlando to Los Angeles.  Disney’s construction would begin in late 2017 and finish by 2024.

So, what and where should Disney build in Anaheim?

Vader DisneylandStar Wars, Marvel, and Frozen are the no-brainers. Marvel’s contract with Universal does not include the West Coast, so Disney is free to develop those characters in California.

As for space, one might think that the park is already crowded. It is, and it isn’t. According to a master plan filed with the city, Disney has 3,000,000 square feet of space for California Adventure, but has only used 900,000 (30%). Disneyland has 900,000 square feet unused. (Then there’s the parking to the west of Disneyland Drive, surrounding the three hotels, which might be included in the above totals. Build a structure behind the AMC movie theater for the hotel guests, )

Disney could also repurpose developed land, removing and rebranding older attractions. But where? The Orange County Register has a map, which you can view here.

Likely candidates:

  • Big Thunder Ranch. On the north side of the park. It’s unlikely to be developed, as this area is used for holiday events and private parties, which generate lots of revenue
  • Mickey’s Toontown. Would Disney build a big attraction next to It’s A Small World? Would Disney be heartless, evicting Toons and bulldozing decades of cultural identity, gentrifying an historic enclave now no longer seen in the greater Los Angeles area? Probably not, as this corner of the park is popular with families with little kids.
  • Tomorrowland. Most likely: Innoventions, formerly a Worlds Fair-style exhibit of emerging technologies, is being transformed into a meet-and-greet with Thor, Captain America, and Stark tech. Me… I’d love to see a “Small World” ride designed to take people on a tour of a SHIELD research facility, with all sorts of mayhem taking place behind safety glass.
  • Also in Tomorrowland: Autopia. Okay… this is the only part of Tomorrowland dating back to Opening Day in 1955. But… it takes up a lot of real estate, and it’s now duplicated by the extremely popular Radiator Springs Racers in Cars Land. (Also, what’s so futuristic about driving a car?) Reconfigure the monorail track to open even more space. Tomorrowland already hosts Star Tours, so placing similar attractions nearby, in the “sci-fi” section of Disneyland, would be as big as building Cars Land a few years ago. (A mini-theme-park, immersive.)
  • If you’re getting rid of those two buildings, then why not move Buzz Lightyear’s Astro-Blasters and the Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage over to California Adventure, next to Cars Land and Toy Story Midway Mania?
  • Hollywood Land: Near the entrance to California Adventure, it’s well-developed, but under-utilized. It seems to be the “backlot”, with various “live” venues. The space is flexible for the “next big thing” (like the Frozen sing-along celebration). Tape a Disney Channel show there, and maybe add a Disney museum.
  • Behind the Twilight Zone Tower of Terror. Employee parking and support buildings are there now. With a bug’s land and Cars Land nearby, this is the place for more Pixar-themed attractions.
  • Tom Sawyer’s Island. Does anyone visit?

Here’s a big question:

Theme park rides don’t need to be above ground. What prevents Disney from digging a ten-storey basement in Autopia and placing all of the rides and back-of-house support functions underground? 

In Florida, the Magic Kingdom is actually on the Second Floor. The first floor? That’s where the utilidors are found, the locker rooms, Walt’s frozen corpse…  The water table and massive amounts of swampland wetlands that Walt purchased prevent the construction of basements.

Anaheim? According to the FEMA maps, Disneyland is zoned:

Areas of 0.2% annual chance flood; areas of 1% annual chance flood with average depths of less than 1 foot or with drainage areas less than 1 square mile; and areas protected by levees from 1% annual chance flood.

Given the current weather patterns in California, Disneyland is not very susceptible to flooding, aside from the usual “flash floods” which all cities deal with. The Santa Ana River, four miles away, has been improved by the Army Corps of Engineers, so that’s less of a threat. Disneyland is at an elevation of 141 feet, so the chances of Snake Plissken visiting are rare.

No more of a flood risk than, say DC, and the Reagan Building in the Federal Triangle has five storeys below ground (as there is a height limit on all buildings in the District of Columbia).

Disney could also do this on the north side of the park, with support buildings and warehouses built below ground

I don’t think you’ll see a “third gate” (an additional park) for some time.  This $1 Billion expansion is what they spent on California Adventure when it first opened, which was once a giant parking lot.

Currently, most of Disney’s parking is to the west of Disneyland Drive (near their hotels), or over on the “strawberry fields” (the former Fujishige strawberry farms) which currently holds the Toy Story parking lot.

Disney would need to gain more land for parking if they plan to repurpose existing parking lots.

But… there exists a giant parking lot in Anaheim, used only 80 days out of the year. It was once leased by Disney, back in the 1990s, when Disney owned the Anaheim Angels.

Crazy, you say? Parking four miles away from Disneyland at Angel Field? Perhaps. But consider this…

  • The current ballpark has 12,000 parking spaces.
  • The City of Anaheim has spent lots of money to turn Gene Autry Way into a major thoroughfare. It’s underutilized now. It runs from the Stadium to… the back door of the Toy Story parking lot. Trace the route one block further, and you’re on your way to the Convention Center.
  • The City of Anaheim spent $185 Million on the Anaheim Regional Transportation Intermodal Center, a transportation hub which serves Amtrak, Metrolink, and buses. (And in the future: streetcars and high-speed rail?)
  • The Los Angeles Angels at Anaheim (no, really, that’s their name) has a clause in their lease with the City. They can stay until 2029, or skedaddle before 2019. Lots of other local cities are a-courtin’ the Angels, and a new stadium could be constructed elsewhere before the 2019 season. Part of the contention is that the Angel’s owners want to develop the land around the stadium.
  • The stadium sits on 155 acres. That’s about the size of the original Disneyland in 1955.

So, what could Disney do?

The most critical strategy is to acquire the property in the triangle directly east of Disneyland, bordered by the Santa Ana Freeway (I-5) and Katella Avenue. They already own a few properties there, and short-term, it looks like Disney will move employee parking and offices to the space, freeing up land within Disneyland for attractions.  Another possibility, short-term, is that Disney builds a parking structure on that property, with a skybridge across Harbor Avenue.

With that triangle, Disney can connect Disneyland to their Toy Story lot (most likely via the monorail), which would offer enough space for two more parks.

The Toy Story lot has about 3,000 spaces, which could easily be accommodated by the Angels lot.

Aside from support buildings for the Park’s attractions, Disney could move the Team Disney Anaheim offices and other non-essential buildings to the the Santa Ana River, freeing up space on the north side of the park for more attractions. This would require a long-term lease with the City, but that’s easy to negotiate, especially with the additional theme parks ($$$) and possibly a tax on parking (which would fund local transit).

The City then builds a streetcar which runs from the ARTIC station with stops at the Disney parking garage at the stadium, the Toy Story gate (with a nearby monorail station nearby), the Convention Center, and the monorail station in Downtown Disney.  There is a streetcar line being studied. It would run along Katella Avenue, swing north to the Park, and then terminate at the Convention Center. That route could go right through the newly acquired Carousel Inn and office properties, lessening landowner objections. It’s still a bit of a walk to the Main Gate, about five minutes.

Anaheim streetcar

Well, we’ll see if anything gets announced this weekend at D23.

MiceChat has some interesting thoughts as well.

Wait and see…  but, how long to wait? Could be decades.



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