Disneyland teases possibility of new theme park in hopes that Anaheim lets it do whatever it wants


Concept art for the Disneyland Forward proposal - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • Concept art for the Disneyland Forward proposal
Disneyland shocked fans this month when they announced a new project focused on future expansions at the resort. Known as DisneylandForward, the project looks at how the 510-acre resort in Southern California will evolve over time.

A website for the project and the corresponding Disney Parks Blog post pointed to major new additions heading to Orlando and the Asia parks as possible additions to Disneyland, causing many fans to take to social media to share their excitement. But no concrete plans were shared by Disney. Instead, Disneyland Forward is best understood as a push to change local zoning codes and not any specific projects by the company.

Disney's push comes as Anaheim faces a projected $108.5 million deficit this fiscal year (which began in July). Next month, Disneyland and California Adventure will reopen after a closure of more than a year. This prolonged closure has highlighted how important Disney and tourism are for Anaheim, where nearly forty percent of total general fund revenue comes from the tourism industry. In 2018, the Disneyland Resort generated a regional economic impact of $8.5 billion. Still, many locals had begun pushing back against Disney in recent years.

Plans for a new parking structure and pedestrian bridge failed in 2017 after local businesses expressed concerns over how it may affect foot traffic in the area. In 2018, after Anaheim officials and Disney couldn’t come to an agreement over tax incentives for a new luxury hotel at the resort, Disney canceled the project.

Both of those plans involved shifting zoning mandates that were put in place in the 1990s when Disney worked with the city in developing the resort district. At the time, that project was widely lauded. The resort district plan that Disney helped push through led to massive overhauls to the properties surrounding Disney and helped the resort when it came to approvals ahead of Disney’s California Adventure.

Many tourism-reliant communities, including Kissimmee and Orlando, followed Anaheim’s lead in redeveloping their tourism corridors with similar regulations.

Now Disney is wanting to shift gears, acknowledging separated zoning uses are no longer desired. The separation between hotels and theme parks has blurred, with Disney pushing the lack of distinction. At Tokyo DisneySea, the Hotel MiraCosta is integrated into the park. A similar hotel is also rumored for Epcot.

Disneyland itself has seen a similar move recently when it hosted a special food and beverage event in Disney’s California Adventure ahead of its April 30 reopening. Those ticketed events included food booths and some entertainment but no attractions or typical theme park offerings.

The move to more integrated uses is a trend across cities these days, with many larger projects moving from single-use zoning into planned unit developments where multiple uses and buildings can co-exist within a single project.
Concept art for the Disneyland Forward proposal - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • Concept art for the Disneyland Forward proposal
Like the developers behind many of those projects, which require significant zoning changes, Disneyland has laid multiple community benefit commitments if its proposal is approved. Those include using union contractors for the majority of future developments and local hiring programs that benefit Anaheim residents. They’ve also committed to advocating for and supporting affordable housing projects, workforce development programs, and local nonprofits.

In the region where Community Benefits Agreements were birthed, the commitments by Disney in the proposal look like a response to the criticism many in the community have lodged against them in recent years.

Both the community commitments and the blue-sky plans laid out in literature for the project are likely a push to generate support. Many fan sites are already buzzing with rumors of a third theme park heading to the resort; images for the project do seem to show significant new theme park investments. Renderings also acknowledge the possibility of a third theme park. But in speaking with the Los Angeles Times, Disney confirmed there were no plans for a third park.

Concept art for the Disneyland Forward proposal - IMAGE VIA DISNEY
  • Image via Disney
  • Concept art for the Disneyland Forward proposal
Still, if the project is approved, it could pave the way for significant additions to Disneyland and California Adventure, both of which have maximized their current footprints, by allowing them to expand onto areas currently zoned for parking. Renderings released show what look to be expansions of both parks with new secondary entrance plazas to them. In the plans, another parking lot, near the Anaheim Convention Center, is reimagined as a mixed-use entertainment concept, resembling Florida’s Disney Springs, with a hotel circling it.

It's unclear if any projects similar to those are in fact moving forward at the resort. The goal for Disney is to open up the possibilities to more easily allow whatever they want on their property, including potentially new hotels, retail, or entire theme parks.

Disney hasn’t committed to any concrete plans regarding DisneylandForward with one exception; they confirmed the future plans would include a parking structure and pedestrian bridge similar to the ones canceled in 2017.

Disneyland and Disney California Adventure are currently scheduled to reopen on April 30.

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