Summer is sizzling at Disneyland as the 60th drives record attendance and profits. As all eyes turn to the D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center this weekend, we’d like to update you on some long simmering projects which may or may not be publicly announced this weekend.
Since we last updated you, much has changed and some advanced plans have morphed into something else entirely. The business of running Disneyland has always been one that can change on a dime (just ask anyone still waiting for International Street or Dumbo’s Circus), but with the addition over the years of thick layers of bi-coastal bureaucracy dumbing down the product, the decision-making process inside TDA has become particularly inefficient. Add in a revolving-door president position that changes the TDA nameplate like clockwork every 3 years, and the long term planning for the Anaheim property’s infrastructure (that is impossible to market or use in a commercial) can be stuck in purgatory for years.
That executive inefficiency is most perfectly exemplified by the decade-long indecision over building a parking structure on the Pumbaa parking lot, since the inhabitant of TDA’s presidential suite doesn’t want to be responsible for a no-brainer yet profit-sapping decision on whether or not Disneyland might need some more parking in the future. (Disneyland customers and employees are all painfully aware that those 5,000 extra spaces were needed 10 years ago)
Star Wars: A Bold New Land
But before we get to the new parking structure and its Harbor Blvd. sky bridge, we’ll fill you in on the latest headed to the parks themselves. Most obviously, that means Star Wars. The plans to add Star Wars to Disneyland have changed course and grown in scale rapidly since we first told you several years ago about the Tomorrowland proposal that would have wiped out Autopia. The plan for Star Wars Land has grown immensely in scale, and it’s now aimed squarely at the land north of Disneyland itself. Taking over the Festival Arena, the Circle D Ranch, Mickey’s Toontown and several rehearsal halls and office buildings just north of Toontown. The Circle D property, where all of the park’s horses, goats and other animals are kept will be moving off property to a new facility nearby, and the horses will then be trailered in for their 4 hour shifts pulling the Horse Drawn Streetcars on Main Street.
The rehearsal halls and offices north of Toontown would be moved over to the larger 160,000 square foot office building Disney bought last year at 1515 S. Manchester Avenue, which now houses a dental supply company. That building on Manchester is slated to be phase two of the Pumbaa parking structure, expanding its capacity beyond 8,000+ spaces after the first phase of 5,000 spaces opens in 2018, but in the short term it will become the temporary home of Disneyland’s displaced backstage buildings. The smaller building at 1585 S. Manchester will be demolished for the parking structure construction.
The majority of Star Wars Land in the northernmost park acreage will be inside a massive series of show buildings, meaning the land won’t have to close for fireworks fallout. The rides and shows in the land itself are being developed in a top secret Imagineering lab in Glendale with Imagineers signing extra confidentiality agreements because the plotlines and characters are pulled from the next three episodes in the Star Wars saga and the Lucasfilm folks understandably guard that information with their lives. But what we can tell you is that Star Wars Land will include multiple attractions, anchored by a mega E Ticket using a trackless vehicle that will break the mold when it comes to how theme park visitors interact with a ride environment.
In the shorter term, more Star Wars will be included in Tomorrowland by the end of this year. Another wild Star Wars Land chapter this year had plans change within a few short months and a plan to install a temporary nostalgia exhibit for Disneyland’s 60th Anniversary into Innoventions was shelved. The nostalgia exhibit (much of which will be on display at D23 Expo this weekend) was pushed aside when Bob Iger decreed that the parks needed to hype Star Wars – The Force Awakens that opens December 18th. The gutted Innoventions building will now house a version of the Star Wars Launch Bay interactive museum already announced for Shanghai Disneyland, plus a specially produced movie preview shown nearby at the old Captain EO theater.
Creating a temporary Star Wars miniland in the back of Tomorrowland, the additions are planned to open by Veteran’s Day weekend in November. The preview film will run through January, and Star Wars Launch Bay and a reinvigorated Marvel experience upstairs will operate there for at least several years. Star Wars Launch Bay will also morph into the official Star Wars Land preview center for the park once construction begins. It’s a safe bet that the Star Wars Launch Bay addition coming to Disneyland late this fall will be announced at D23 Expo, due to the tight timeline and imminent opening schedule.
But the rest of the Anaheim expansion plans slated for the next few years are a less safe bet for D23 Expo, which can see its keynote addresses change tactics days before the Expo opens. The plans to expand DCA again with a Marvel Land behind Tower of Terror continue to move ahead, and the E Ticket thrill ride that is planned to anchor that expansion is going to be very unique. The ride will feature a newly Imagineered hybrid ride system that might be best described as a combination of Rock N’ Roller Coaster and Universal’s Transformers ride using every trick and gimmick WDI can throw at it, including on-board audio and effects and elaborate sets and animatronics. With the Pumbaa parking structure moving quickly, the old toll plaza entry lanes south of DCA that are used to redirect cars from Mickey & Friends can also be utilized, creating a surprisingly large chunk of property slated for DCA’s future expansion.
Much Ado About Parking
Speaking of the Pumbaa parking lot, last week the old news that Disney had purchased the land north of Pumbaa burst onto the blogosphere as if it was a breaking development. But long time readers of Miceage will remember over a year ago, on July 1st 2014, when we told you this…
“In a quiet transaction through a third party, Disney now owns the property directly to the north of the Pumbaa parking lot, which houses a business park currently home to a large US Immigration and Customs office. Now that this land is in Disney’s portfolio, they can move ahead on a joint project with the city of Anaheim to level that business park and combine it with the Pumbaa lot to build a large parking structure.”
Although the news that Disney had purchased that land north of Pumbaa was known to our readers 13 months ago, what’s changed in the last year is the strategic plan to cross Harbor Blvd. via a sky bridge. A year ago the city of Anaheim was still moving forward on their plan to build a streetcar line from the then under-construction ARTIC train station to the Disneyland area. The original plan had the streetcar, known as ARC for Anaheim Rapid Connection, zipping beneath the new parking structure towards a station along Harbor Blvd. that was to be built on the site of the current Park Vue Inn. The city planned to take that motel property via eminent domain, and then partner with Disney on getting an ARC station and maintenance facility attached to the parking structure.
But that plan backfired when the owners of the Park Vue Inn angrily went to the media about the plan, and since then the entire ARC project has been put into the deep freeze by a decision from the federal government that the ARC project isn’t eligible for federal funds, and the fact that the ARTIC transit center opened last December to tiny ridership numbers and a $4 Million annual operating deficit now being paid by Anaheim taxpayers.
That led Disney to abandon plans to partner with Anaheim’s dying ARC streetcar project and troubled ARTIC, and instead go off in their own direction. In April Disney purchased the Carousel Inn, a block north of the Park Vue Inn, and reconfigured their parking structure plans to link it to the parks via sky bridge a bit further north. The current plan is to demolish the Carousel Inn and build the sky bridge facility there, linking the 8 story parking structure on its north end and sending Disneyland visitors over Harbor Blvd. where they would be deposited past the monorail beam in the current bus loading area.
But even the concept of a sky bridge over Harbor Blvd. isn’t news to regular Miceage readers. The sky bridge over from the planned Pumbaa parking structure is a concept that dates back more than five years. Back in July, 2010 Al Lutz himself first alerted Miceage readers of the new structure and sky bridge plan and stated this…
“Whether or not ARC gets built, the thousands of people parking each day in the new structure would enter Resort property via a sweeping skybridge over Harbor Blvd. that would land in the current bus loading zone along Harbor Blvd.”
That plan for the new parking structure has been considered and shelved by the last three TDA presidents, starting with Ed Grier back in 2008. What’s finally happened to make this old plan move towards implementation is this year’s change in the Chairmanship of Parks & Resorts with the arrival of Bob Chapek. The infamous Paul Pressler had first occupied that newly created Chairman role back in 1999 to 2002, and then was succeeded by the icy Jay Rasulo who made it painfully clear he had no personal interest in the theme park industry much less any plans to spend more than 60 minutes per year at Disneyland, and only then for scripted media events. Rasulo was mercifully replaced in ’09 with the more likeable Tom Staggs, who would appear at Disneyland once or twice a year with his school aged children. But Tom Staggs had only a passing interest in the theme park biz and knew very little about how to operate them day to day. Which brings us to the approachable Bob Chapek who arrived into the role six months ago and made it immediately clear he had a lot to learn about theme parks, much less hotels and cruise ships and massive parking structures.
One of the first things Bob did was not fill Meg Crofton’s position of North American/European President when she retired in May, flattening the reporting structure a bit and eliminating a tiny sliver of the stifling bureaucracy of endless executives inhabiting the Parks & Resorts division. The result is that Michael Colglazier as Disneyland’s president now reports directly to Bob Chapek as the Chairman without an executive middleman. And while Michael Colglazier hasn’t shown himself to really be much of an old school Disneylander, he has some great Vice Presidents and lower executives reporting to him who are Disneylanders at heart and they know too well that parking at the Disneyland Resort is often a complete nightmare for paying customers and employees alike.
With a new Chairman the TDA old timers sensed it was time to appeal to Bob Chapek himself why the structure and sky bridge plan had to be funded. But first Bob had to have it explained to him the hellish hassle the paying customers often go through, since like most executives his visits to Disneyland always begin by simply pulling up to the lobby at the Grand Californian Hotel and having his car valet parked for the day while he strolls into the park within minutes. But some savvy TDA folks pulled together a brutally honest conference room presentation that left Bob shocked.
But once Bob Chapek grasped just how bad Disneyland’s parking situation was for the paying customers, and for how long it had been ignored, he moved quickly in approving the funds and directing Michael Colglazier to fix it. Which is why the plan to build the long delayed and endlessly deferred parking structure on the Pumbaa lot is finally moving quickly ahead.
It also helps that Michael Colglazier himself personally pledged to the Anaheim City Council last month that Disney would quickly invest $1.5 Billion dollars into the Anaheim property to avoid a ticket tax for the next 45 years. While the changing Star Wars Land plans prove hard to decide upon, the long delayed Pumbaa parking structure can begin construction almost immediately for a 2018 opening of its first phase, which will satisfy the Anaheim politicians and the mandatory investment agreement Disney just entered into. The additions inside the parks won’t open until after the first phase of the parking structure is up and running, thankfully.
Bob Chapek really deserves the credit here in finally acknowledging what we’ve all known for years; Disneyland’s parking situation is horrible and it needs to be fixed with the plans drawn up over a decade ago. There’s not much glamour in a parking structure, so it likely won’t get a mention at D23 Expo even though it would get a roaring cheer from the frustrated Annual Passholders in the audience.
Diamonds are Golden
Leaving all the expansion and D23 excitement aside, the entire Disneyland Resort has been doing gangbuster business ever since the Diamond Celebration started. Tom Staggs in his new COO role was quoted by the media as saying that Disneyland Resort’s third quarter of April through June was “the best quarter ever for Disneyland Resort in terms of attendance and profitability.” Those record big crowds have continued through the summer, with daily attendance for both parks running noticeably higher than last summer. Annual Pass sales are still wildly successful and TDA seems to have found a steady equilibrium of 1 Million Passholders, give or take 30,000 or 40,000. Quite simply, the Disneyland Resort has never been more financially successful than it is now.
The crowds of big spenders are causing TDA to rethink the usual entertainment strategy through the rest of the year however. The planners are now trying to nail down their Christmas strategy, which is typically some of the busiest weeks of the year. One scenario now being given serious thought is to move the popular Christmas Fantasy Parade over to DCA for twice-daily performances this year to alleviate crowding in Disneyland and allow Paint The Night to continue its own twice-nightly performances. The nightly Diamond Celebration entertainment has been a big hit with locals and tourist demographics alike, and with Star Wars crowds heading for Tomorrowland in November and December anyway the entertainment schedule for the holidays will need to be heavily tweaked, which may bump the Christmas parade over to DCA this year.
At this weekend’s D23 Expo they may not fess up to all the big ticket items headed to Anaheim; Star Wars Land, Marvel Land, a massive new parking structure. Burbank’s communications team really runs the show when it comes to D23 announcements remember, and TDA just goes along for the ride. And Burbank may try to get away with just admitting to Star Wars Launch Bay in Innoventions as this year’s Christmas present while Iger coyly admits to the press later that they have more Disneyland plans to come. But $1.5 Billion worth of change and expansion is coming to the Disneyland Resort very quickly, whether Disney finally admits it this weekend or not.
That’s a lot so take in, but we always appreciate your thoughts on what the parks are doing right and what you’d like to see them change. Are you ready for Star Wars and Marvel? Is better and closer parking important to you? Pull up your soapbox and give us a shout!