Disneyland’s $1.9 billion development plan advances

Disney is pursuing a four-decade development plan for its Anaheim resort, which, if approved, could allow visitors to stroll through the wintry village of Arendelle from “Frozen” or the bustling city of “Zootopia” at Disney’s California theme parks.

The proposed plan would not expand Disney’s current 490-acre footprint in Southern California or alter existing construction permissions. Instead, it aims to repurpose a 50-acre parking lot to accommodate new attractions, while relocating Disneyland’s parking to a multistory structure. These changes would enable Disney to create new rides and entertainment options within the confines of the resort, which is surrounded by residential neighborhoods.

Rachel Alde, Disney’s senior vice president of global development and finance, expressed excitement about the potential for new storytelling opportunities. “We know there are stories out there we haven’t told yet, like ‘Wakanda’ or ‘Coco’ or ‘Frozen’ or ‘Zootopia’,” she said. “We know what kind of stories we would love to tell. We need to get the guidance on what we can build there so we can understand how.”

Anaheim’s planning commission granted approval to the proposal on Monday, and it will now proceed to the Anaheim City Council for further review.

The project, which mandates Disney to invest a minimum of $1.9 billion in the theme park, lodging, entertainment, and associated facilities over the next ten years, must receive approval from the city council before it can be implemented.

Disney aims to enhance visitor experiences by creating more immersive attractions, akin to the successful Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, which debuted in California in 2019. While specific themes for the new developments are yet to be determined, Disney envisions areas similar to “Zootopia” in Shanghai Disneyland, where guests can explore vibrant cityscapes reminiscent of the film’s setting.

The current constraints at the original Disneyland in California limit the ability to construct large-scale attractions without impacting existing beloved features, noted Alde. This proposed project marks Disney’s first major overhaul of its California theme parks since the 1990s when it transformed its original park into a resort hub and subsequently added Disney California Adventure Park and Downtown Disney.

Opened in 1955, Disneyland ranked as the world’s second-most visited theme park in 2022, drawing 16.8 million visitors, according to the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM report. Disney’s parks play a crucial role in Southern California’s tourism, particularly in Anaheim, Orange County’s largest city with over 345,000 residents, and host to major league baseball and national hockey teams. Hotel revenue, which accounts for about half of Anaheim’s income, is projected to reach $236 million this year, according to city estimates.

“Visitors generate a tremendous amount of revenue for our city that allows us to invest in our neighborhoods,” said Erin Ryan, a spokesperson for the city of Anaheim. “Disney brings a lot of tourists here.”

The proposal also requires Disney to invest tens of millions in street enhancements, affordable housing, and other infrastructure in the city. Disney has conducted workshops to address residents’ concerns about the proposal, including the absorption of a local road into the theme park.

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