Spring Break has ended and TDA has been very happy with the attendance and strong response to DCA’s expanded Food & Wine Festival. Despite the ongoing financial success of the Anaheim property, things are getting a bit tense in TDA lately as the planning calendar for fiscal year 2017 has come under serious strain. Some key dates have already passed for the massive Eastern Gateway project, while work there has ground to a halt and important start dates have come and gone.
Originally the Disneyland Monorail was slated to have closed last Monday as the beam along Harbor Blvd. and through the northeast corner of DCA was to be re-aligned to the north to parallel the existing inbound beam before making a sharp S-curve and rejoining the existing beam over Buena Vista Street. That six month monorail closure is now tentatively scheduled to begin May 15th, but that’s really just a placekeeper date as the next Anaheim Planning Commission meeting on May 1st still doesn’t have the Eastern Gateway project on the docket for discussion. And Anaheim’s politicians are in no hurry to make TDA’s life easier right now.
With most of the Anaheim City Council and Mayor Tait now in open opposition to Disneyland’s executive team and future growth plans, the Anaheim Planning Commission has sent Disney back to the drawing boards on their skybridge plan. And the local businesses have organized in opposition to the skybridge plan, as they see their pedestrian gravy train coming to an end if all pedestrian traffic is forced up onto the skybridge and away from their businesses. Meanwhile, the new curved monorail beams gather dust in a WDI warehouse.
It’s a very messy conflict right now, and the sudden change in tone from Anaheim politicians took TDA totally off guard while deadlines have passed and the clock ticks ever closer to Star Wars Land opening less than two years from now. But TDA’s current executive team has no one to blame but themselves (and their predecessors) since the plans for the Eastern Gateway have existed since 2008. A series of Disneyland Resort presidents, from Ed Grier to George Kalogridis to Michael Colglazier, kicked the can down the road repeatedly since 2008 when Anaheim’s city hall was far friendlier with Disney, with several opportunities to restart the process and get the Eastern Gateway built in time for the Cars Land opening in 2012 and the 60th Anniversary in 2015.
The current Eastern Gateway plan is even a downsized version of the original grander plan that included several thousand additional parking spaces just for Cast Members with a dedicated CM skybridge that landed at a new work-life amenity center that would have had a child care facility, a credit union, fitness center, employee store, coffee shop and pharmacy to bring the Anaheim Cast Member experience up to the level enjoyed by Burbank employees. That was all cut from the plans as TDA chose not to invest in its Cast Members, and the downsized version is now solely aimed at adding 7,000 overdue visitor parking spaces and the transportation center that frees up the existing Esplanade for DCA park expansion space.
Michael Colglazier has been the Disneyland Resort President for over four years and he continued the process of delaying the Eastern Gateway for several years while the parking situation for both visitors and Cast Members got worse and worse every year as attendance at both Anaheim parks rose higher and higher and profits came pouring in. Anaheim is now purposely stalling the Eastern Gateway and TDA has every reason to panic as Star Wars Land construction moves along, but no one to blame but themselves for this one.
While the April calendar is a story of political drama and missed deadlines, the calendar for the next 90 days will be very busy and will see several big debuts and announcements take place. The month of May belongs to Guardians of the Galaxy and the launch of Summer of Heroes, which will be the platform for the planned announcement of DCA’s Marvel land at D23 Expo. The busy May calendar looks like this…
- May 2nd – The construction walls around Guardians of the Galaxy come down.
- May 8th – Summer of Heroes begins installation in multiple Hollywood Backlot venues.
- May 12th – Pixar Play Parade returns to Disney California Adventure with a new early evening time.
- May 20th – WDI Employee Previews & Disneyland Resort Cast Member Previews at Guardians of the Galaxy
- May 21st & May 22nd – Disneyland Resort Cast Member Previews at Guardians of the Galaxy
- May 23rd & May 24th – Annual Passholder Previews at Guardians of the Galaxy
- May 25th – Evening Press Party for Guardians of the Galaxy & Summer of Heroes
- May 26th – Press Event for Guardians of the Galaxy & Summer of Heroes
- May 27th – Guardians of the Galaxy officially opens for all park guests
And then Guardians of the Galaxy – Mission: BREAKOUT! will be off and running as the newest E Ticket attraction in Anaheim, while attention eventually shifts back to Disneyland. But not before Pixar hosts a big celebrity premiere party for the Cars 3 movie in Cars Land on the night of Saturday, June 10th. Cars Land will close early at 4:00pm and the land will be used for a schmoozy after-party once the movie premiere ends across the street at the Anaheim Convention Center.
In early June the Rivers of America will have been refilled with water and serious testing will begin for the new Fantasmic!. The entire Rivers of America won’t open to park visitors then, but the plan now is to reopen just Tom Sawyer Island by the first weekend in June to add back some ride capacity to the park. Visitors to Tom Sawyer Island in June will also get new views of the reworked northern berm and Disneyland Railroad route separating Star Wars Land from the rest of the park.
Later in July the rest of the Rivers of America attractions will return to service, and the Entertainment team is on a race against the clock to get the updated Fantasmic! up and running by Disneyland’s 62nd birthday on July 17th. Depending on how the restaging and rehearsals go however, Fantasmic! may not return until sometime in August, which was the reason why the Electrical Parade was extended out to August 20th to be on the safe side.
The Rivers of America project has been fraught with problems and engineering surprises and the original construction and reopening calendar was thrown out the window months ago, but many teams are working as quickly as possible to get the full Rivers of America and Fantasmic! up and running by mid summer. The 59 year old Sailing Ship Columbia, which had plenty of surprise wood rot and weakened superstructure to battle and rebuild, has caused much of the delays to the calendar. Wish that team of Cast Members luck, as the project has been a real bear and gone way over budget.
The weekend of July 14th thru the 16th will also be key dates on the calendar, as D23 Expo invades Anaheim for the fifth time. The big WDI pavilion will return to the show floor, this time dedicated exclusively to Star Wars Land. While key elements of the two rides will remain secret, especially the trackless Mega E Ticket battle escape ride code named Alcatraz, WDI will play up the Ren Faire style interactive storytelling they have planned throughout the new land.
But it’s the Parks keynote presentation at D23 Expo that will be the site for the big announcements, with DCA’s next Marvel expansion south of Guardians of the Galaxy planned as the non-surprise surprise announcement. And after the Marvel expansion is announced in July, currently planned to open in 2020, it will be up to temporary entertainment like the Summer of Heroes to satisfy the Marvel demand until then. Let’s hope the Eastern Gateway can get city approval and be under construction by this summer. If it’s not, TDA’s planning calendar will have been destroyed and they will be facing a massive logistical problem come the spring of 2019 when Star Wars Land is completed. Anaheim’s politicians know the position TDA is in and are playing hardball with Disney, and it will be interesting to see how this problem gets resolved. TDA might have to learn the hard way that you can’t fight city hall and that they never should have delayed the Eastern Gateway for nearly a decade just to make the Burbank bean counters happy.
That’s a lot to digest, the calendar is packed with important dates and projects. Is there anything in particular that you are looking forward to? Do you think the Anaheim City Council should approve the Eastern Gateway Bridge? We want to hear from you in the comments below!
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