What’s DisneylandForward and Why Is Disney Doing It?
When you work for Disney theme parks, you don’t have the luxury of a five-year plan.
Instead, the changes you make today will still have ramifications for future generations.
Park planners must think about 20 years from now almost as much as they worry about next year. And that requires strategizing and negotiating.
Unexpectedly, Disney just started that process the other day when it announced a new initiative.
Today, we’ll talk about DisneylandForward and explain why Disney is doing it.
What Did Disney Just Announce?
In an odd way, Disney didn’t announce anything other than a name and hashtag.
The company hosted a presentation about the future of Disneyland Resort. During the event, these Imagineers asked for some help.
Disney wants to maximize the potential of the land it owns in Anaheim. Unfortunately, it previously signed usage contracts.
— Deseret News (@DeseretNews) March 30, 2021
Like everything else in life, some bureaucracy comes into play. Disney and Anaheim negotiated how this land would be used. Then, they signed contracts.
Even though this happened decades ago, the contracts remain valid. So, Disney has announced a plan that will take two years to negotiate.
Hold on to your Mickey ears! Today, the Disneyland Resort announced plans to expand their theme park, retail and parking offerings in Anaheim. https://t.co/dnBtavAWad
— Visit Anaheim (@Visit_Anaheim) March 25, 2021
I’m not even joking. During the interview, everyone acknowledged that Anaheim officials, including the Mayor, would need to sign off on the project.
What’s the project? It’s called DisneylandForward, and it will define the next 20 years at the parks.
Disney officials want to add new hotels, dining, shops, and guest experiences at the Happiest Place on Earth.
You can think of the whole thing as one prolonged but gradual expansion. Imagineers will slowly build out the rest of the Disneyland campus.
The idea centers on taking unused space and turning it into a hotbed for new rides and potential moneymaking ventures.
I stress that this process will not happen overnight. In fact, the best-case scenario would mean development begins in 2023.
Still, park planners must consider the future of Disneyland, a place that has always faced issues with land.
During the pandemic, executives have received a rare opportunity to step back and evaluate Disneyland Resort’s current state as a whole.
In the process, they’ve recognized how much unused land resides in the area. Executives will no longer ignore that much untapped potential.
Disneyland will expand and improve by developing the land it already owns.
Why Is Disney Doing This?
Disney just played hardball with the city of Anaheim by offering a warm hug.
I realize that statement sounds incongruous, but it’s what just happened.
For the past several years, Disneyland executives have bickered with Anaheim officials over many aspects of park management.
The Anaheim City Council heard complaints from residents and other businesses about Disney’s business practices.
Some members ran for office under the platform that they’d bring Disney under control after years of operating unchecked.
Disney watched the same parcel of land face pushback from Anaheim officials on two different projects.
First, the company wanted to construct a transportation hub on the eastern part of the Disney campus.
When local business owners complained, the plans collapsed.
Similarly, Disney announced a new hotel in the Downtown Disney district.
To the company’s total shock, Anaheim officials held them to an exact address, refusing to provide a promised $267 million tax credit if the project moved two blocks.
Petty moves like this had turned elected Anaheim officials against Disney management…but then the pandemic occurred.
During the past year, many businesses have grown painfully aware of Disney’s importance to their bottom lines.
With Disneyland closed, the cottage industries in the surrounding area have lost staggering amounts of revenue.
In other words, absence has made the heart grow fonder. Now that everybody appreciates how much they need Disneyland, Disney’s milking it.
The company went to the media with an announcement that it will happily work with Anaheim officials to build a better Disneyland.
However, in taking this approach, Disney executives have placed all the pressure on Anaheim’s government to agree to their demands.
So, this offer to play nicer from now on doubles as a purpose pitch. Disney has already stated its intentions and dared Anaheim officials to say no.
What Does Disney Want from This?
During the 1990s, Disneyland brokered deals with Anaheim representatives to plot future phases of expansion.
At the time, management committed several parcels of land to single-usage developments.
For example, one section of the Disneyland campus would turn into a parking lot, while another would host a hotel.
However, much has changed over the past quarter-century.
Disney has watched in envy as developers have demonstrated the effectiveness of multi-usage sites.
An example I’d use is Wrigleyville, the area surrounding Wrigley Stadium in Chicago. It’s become the basis for numerous businesses catering to baseball fans.
Atlanta signed a similar agreement to move its baseball team outside the city limits.
In the process, they developed Battery Atlanta, a lucrative project. You can think of it as Bravesville.
This multi-use business development earned $438 million in fiscal 2019. The year before this entertainment area opened, the team managed just $275 million.
Disney fell in love with this concept so much that it built a multi-use section at Shanghai Disneyland called Disneytown.
Think of this place as the deluxe, pre-planned version of Downtown Disney, a series of shops, restaurants, and experiences, with Disney claiming most revenue.
The management team at Disney obviously wants something like that on the Disneyland campus…and it’s something they deserve, too.
After all, those other cottage industries wouldn’t exist if not for Disney. Why should the City Council listen to their complaints over Disney’s? It makes no sense.
All that park officials are asking for here is the right to use land that Disney owns in a way that they believe will maximize the revenue potential.
This free market application would allow Disneyland to modernize while extending Anaheim’s Disney Bubble by almost twice as much.
Why This Story Matters to You
Do you love Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge? Are you chomping at the bit to enter Avengers Campus?
Disney committed roughly $1 billion for the former project and hundreds of millions more for the latter.
The cutting-edge attractions and amenities on displays don’t represent the height of Imagineering, though. Instead, they reflect what Disney can do today.
Take a moment to consider what Disney could do with the new land. It could add themed experiences featuring some of your favorite intellectual properties.
In fact, the DisneylandForward presentation showed highlights from upcoming themed areas for Frozen, Peter Pan, and Tangled.
All three will open soon at international Disney parks. Disneyland could duplicate those premises if it got to use its land that way.
Remember how Galaxy’s Edge added 14 acres to Disneyland Park? Executives indicate that roughly half the campus is ripe for expansion.
Feasibly, a third gate is even possible. Officials stated otherwise, but analysts noted that one parcel of land was previously rumored for that purpose.
Right now, most new additions at Disneyland Resort come at the expense of something else. It’s a maddening situation that exists due to red tape.
If Disney could reassign this land for new developments, the campus would improve immeasurably.
The number of attractions onsite would increase significantly.
Also, Disney could create some new ventures that blur the lines about what’s considered an attraction.
These laudable goals are absolutely possible. Disney simply needs more space to make it happen.
The Ultimate Disney Experience
Adding attractions, themed lands, or even a third theme park still only scratches the surface.
Disney envisions a future where heavily themed restaurants like Space 220 are the standard, not the exception.
Similarly, interactive elements could turn a shopping trip into a gamified experience, complete with potential rewards.
I hate to use DisneyQuest as an example since it comes with a negative perception. However, the plans for interactive Disney buildings always made sense.
DisneyQuest failed as a concept for other, borderline uncontrollable reasons. For starters, the technology wasn’t there for some of the more ambitious ideas.
DisneylandForward could introduce a new version of that concept, one stretching across the entire Disneyland campus.
Currently, when you exit the park at Disneyland Resort, you’re in Anaheim, and you notice the difference immediately.
Park officials are planning for a future version of Disneyland where you’ll perceive little difference between the theme parks and the rest of the campus.
You’ll have Disney fun everywhere, not just on Space Mountain.
The forever part of DisneylandForever is all the land that Walt Disney bought during the early 1950s, modernized to make it the most Disney thing imaginable.
Obviously, this process will take time. Thankfully, Disneyland officials have stated that they’re on a 20-year plan now.
DisneylandForever will still be a thing in 2041! That’s how much of a long-term project we’re discussing.
Please keep in mind that no matter what anybody says now, there will be pushback from businesses and City Council members over the next two years.
As I said, Disney just started a negotiation. It won’t become a done deal until contracts get signed and paperwork gets filed.
You’ll want to keep reading MickeyBlog to learn about every twist and turn along the way.