What is Disneyland Forward? The official site describes this public planning project as a way to “meaningfully invest” in Anaheim and to meet “future demands” in its ventures. Disney got its start in California in the 1950s, and actually struggled to raise funds for the initial theme park offering.
Disneyland opened on July 17, 1955, on 160 acres in Anaheim, after some $17 million in 1955 dollars was spent to open the doors. As Disneyland and the Walt Disney empire grew, it became clear over time that both the City of Anaheim and the Disneyland operation would need to work together to address the needs of private industry and those of the taxpayers there.
From 1955 to 1990, Disneyland grew; a second Disney theme park broke ground in Florida in 1965. Walt Disney died a year later, and on the opening day of Walt Disney World, the park was dedicated in Disney’s memory. There was plenty of other growth; a Tokyo Disney theme park opened in 1983, EuroDisney opened in Paris in 1992, and Disneyland Hong Kong began operations in 2005.
Disney and the City of Anaheim began working together in the 1990s to coordinate the growth of Disney in the area. Part of the need for this had to do with the newly created Anaheim Resort area. New zoning and districting rules dictated the nature and scope of new developments in that region–there were strict controls on height, standards, and more.
The new zoning and partnership resulted in the Downtown Disney district, a new luxury resort and hotel (the Disney Grand Californian Hotel & Spa), parking, emergency services for the area, and plans to accommodate future growth. Traffic issues related to Disney operations were also addressed; the partnership resulted in new off-ramp access directly to Disney parking facilities.
In 2021, DisneyForward revealed its plans to expand the Disneyland empire in Anaheim and began reaching out to the public and to the City to reimagine the theme park and surrounding area. The “multi-year public planning” aspect of DisneyForward is addressed in the FAQ section of the official site with the caveat that this planning is at the very beginning.
“While the project will be refined over time, we hope to explore the creation of integrated experiences featuring new theme park attractions, dining, retail, hotels, and more. Right now, we don’t have any specific projects planned for the future.”
And that’s where it gets a bit rocky for this project, as we’ll learn below.
There does seem to be (at press time) a wee bit of trouble in Disney Paradise; the Disneyland Forward official site includes what seems to be a thinly veiled complaint against the City of Anaheim in the form of a blurb on the site promising more future development such as the addition of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge, development of an Avengers Campus at Disney California Adventure Park.
Where these projects are mentioned, the official site states, “Unfortunately, the addition of more attractions and experiences in the future may be limited under current inflexible planning restrictions unless we remove and replace treasured rides and attractions in our parks today.”
Whether this is an indication that Disney has grown to the limit of what Anaheim is physically capable of providing, or if it simply points to a disagreement over the rules of development isn’t clear, but it’s worth noting for future reference.
Could Disney switch to a business model that incorporates more “limited engagement” attractions that would be swapped out rather than more permanent or semi-permanent attractions? Only time will tell.
The benefits of having a forward-thinking, town planning-centric partnership between the City of Anaheim and Disneyland Forward are obvious in some cases–making future plans with an eye on the environment, how new developments affect local commutes and communities, plus how to make it all sustainable are crucial.
But the not-so-obvious benefits include those for the workers who have to get the labor done and making sure that local residents get a shot at job opportunities represented by the partnership. All future development associated with Disneyland Forward would be required to include:
- Using union labor for “the majority” of future development
- Using local residents for labor
- Using veterans for labor
- Maintaining diversity standards
- Connecting with local disadvantaged businesses
- Being environmentally responsible in all new developments
The DisneyForward official site is keen on letting readers know its accomplishments with the City of Anaheim, which include:
- Provides more than $90 million in surplus revenue (paid to Anaheim’s General Fund)
- More than $8 billion in “positive economic impact”
- More than 78,000 jobs in Southern California
- $20 million to support nonprofit organizations each year
- 400 community projects
- $28 million to Anaheim schools as Anaheim’s largest taxpayer
Conversely, the City of Anaheim approved a “shield deal” to protect Disney theme parks from entertainment taxes for nearly half a century. That was approved in 2015. Disney also got a tax rebate for luxury hotel construction and that rebate is worth well above $250 million.
The Disneyland Forward official site advises its visitors that at press time, Disney does not seek “additional square footage or hotel rooms beyond what is currently approved and allowed” but claims to be asking Anaheim to update “existing approvals to allow for integrated development to be located and built on Disney properties.”
DisneyForward does not have any future plans on its official site at press time, noting the goal, “at the moment is to reach out into the community to share DisneylandForward with residents and stakeholders and answer questions about DisneylandForward.”
The site does drop a tantalizing hint in spite of claiming that it has no current plans aside from reaching out; the official site notes the prospect of an “immersive” development in the area that could unify all parks, hotels, dining, and entertainment options into a single zone.
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