A Different look at Disney...

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The other idea still being toyed with is Disney buying up Anaheim GardenWalk entirely, instead of just entering into an ownership deal for two of the attached hotels that we've already told you about. GardenWalk has really struggled to get off the ground, after being delayed by so many years that it missed the last recession in '01, was delayed continually through the boom years of '04 to '07, and finally opened just as the local retail industry cratered in '08. The strip of restaurants on Katella are doing a bit better lately, but the mall itself is still a ghost town even on weekends and too much of the retail space remains vacant.

Disney has been playing hardball with both the hotel developers and the mall developers as it looks at possibly taking over the entire project. Originally Disney was planning on announcing the GardenWalk hotel deal later this month, but strategy for the entire mall itself may push that announcement back again. If Disney does eventually buy up GardenWalk, don't look for this to be branded as a Disney property outright. Rather, the plan would have Disney owning and operating the mall, but keeping it distinctly separate from Downtown Disney in branding and feel. This wouldn't become "Disney's GardenWalk," "Downtown Disney East" or "Downtown Disney Too."

Connect the plots

If Disney were to own GardenWalk, it would be a setup much like the Flamingo Crossings shopping center being built on the edge of Walt Disney World property out in Florida. It would belong to the Mouse, but publicly the Mouse wouldn't really claim it. Still, it would make a nice property addition for Disney next to the huge new multi-level parking structure now being planned for the Pumbaa overflow parking lot across Disney Way from the mall. The recent financial panic hasn't helped this deal, obviously, and there is no guarantee it will piece together. But it's an interesting way for Disney to grab some valuable land that would better link their growing resort together, don't you think?

Cast Murmurs

While all of these plans and construction takes place around Anaheim, a change has been occurring inside the park with the hourly Cast Members. The runaway turnover rates that Disneyland has dealt with for the past five years have suddenly begun to decline. Predictably, all of the TDA managers who had been working on trying to lower the turnover rate without actually spending any money on the problem have suddenly begun declaring that their specific plan or their department was the one to make the big difference and turn the tide this summer.

What no one admits to however is that the treatment of Cast Members and their work environments haven't changed one bit. What has changed quite suddenly is the local economy, and the Orange County unemployment rate has suddenly began to creep up every month since last spring. Entry level jobs are getting scarce and the kids looking for them know it, so they are hanging on to their nine dollar an hour Disneyland jobs longer than they used to.

Meanwhile, TDA keeps up the incessant drumbeat about things no one really cares about like the "Disney Difference" and the latest corporate propaganda campaign via the overly slick Disneyland Line employee newspaper or the vapid infomercials on the in-house "Cast TV" cable channel. Since the big plasma screens showing Cast TV in all the cafeterias always have their sound muted by Cast Members trying to spend their lunch break away from work instead of being bombarded by it, it takes quite a lot of guts to actually claim that all of this slick propaganda has suddenly made people want to stay in their current jobs.

You'll be happy to learn however that those cafeterias have returned to the old caste system they had during the Cynthia Harriss days. That is, the fancy Eat Ticket cafeteria next to the TDA administration building has received constant attention with La Brea Bakery now offering fresh made gourmet sandwiches, an army of chefs in starched whites serving up freshly made full meals served on real plates with real silverware and flowers on the tables in a sparklingly clean dining room.

Meanwhile, the two cafeterias for Disneyland's hourly Cast Members no longer have plates or silverware (Styrofoam and plastic are the rule, environment be damned), the food is typical starchy junior high cafeteria fare cooked in advance and shipped over in steam trays with the popular stuff selling out in minutes and the gross stuff sitting for hours, and the dingy and dirty dining room has people fighting for tables at the lunch rush. For the hourly Cast Members there's no gourmet anything, pretty girls are openly harassed by leering fry cooks, and there hasn't been a flower on the table in years. But at least the clever hourly Cast Members found the mute button on Cast TV.

Honestly, the big chiefs in TDA couldn't be more clueless about keeping the hourly troops happy if their life depended on it. With the weakening local economy they now have a slowing turnover rate and better candidates looking for jobs, and the people in Human Resources are seriously trying to use macro-economic trends as reasons to pad their upcoming performance reviews and prove they did something right for a change.

If it weren't so sickening it would be funny.

Ghost Host

And yes, resort president Ed Grier is still nowhere to be seen. Notice how he never even comes up in our updates anymore? The man is simply MIA. Nevertheless even with a ghost such as Grier in place, there's still so much promise ahead for Anaheim; despite the economy (so far) and work yet to be done on the basics and front lines.

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Oh-kay - that should do it for today.

Keep in mind updates only get posted when there is something to report on, and not before. It takes time to confirm things, and even then we can only offer a snapshot of a continually evolving story. Just like the happiest place on earth, patience is a virtue; the queue may take a while before you can enjoy the attraction. ;)

Yet again we've hit some record numbers lately here on the site, and thanks to all of your kind donations to the payboxes, we've been able to keep the bills paid. As I've said before, we're only here due to all of your efforts.

See you at Disneyland!

Al Lutz may be e-mailed at [email protected] - Please keep in mind he may not be able to respond to each note personally.

2008 Al Lutz

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