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City of Anaheim gives final approval to DisneylandForward

USA TODAY
                                Disney characters dance during the unveiling of the Disneyland Magic Happens parade on Feb. 27, 2020.
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USA TODAY

Disney characters dance during the unveiling of the Disneyland Magic Happens parade on Feb. 27, 2020.

ANAHEIM, Calif. >> Disneyland is about to take the first step on a 40-year journey that will forever change the face of the Anaheim theme park resort now that the city has approved an expansion plan that promises new themed lands, rides, hotels, shops and restaurants.

What will Disneyland build first? An Avatar themed land? A Marvel E-ticket ride? The Arendelle Castle from the World of Frozen?

The answer is likely far less fantastical and much more practical.

The Anaheim City Council gave final unanimous approval to the DisneylandForward proposal on Tuesday. The newly approved plan goes into effect in early June.

The DisneylandForward expansion plan updates a 1990s Anaheim city plan to allow for a mix of theme park, hotel, retail, dining and entertainment on the eastern and western edges of the Disneyland resort.

The Immersive Theme Park westside expansion envisions a theme park on the Downtown Disney and Lilo and Stitch parking lots woven amid the Disneyland Hotel and Pixar Place Hotel.

The Disney Entertainment Destination eastside expansion would bring together theme park experiences, hotels, retail, dining and entertainment on the Toy Story parking lot next to the Anaheim Convention Center.

DisneylandForward has dangled 10 themed lands based on Avatar, Tangled, Frozen, Peter Pan, Zootopia, Toy Story, Black Panther, Coco, Tron and Encanto as potential expansion projects in Anaheim.

Where does Disneyland start? What gets built first?

Disney executives have talked a lot lately about Avatar, Frozen and Wakanda themed lands — but those fantasy lands likely won’t appear at the Disneyland resort for at least a few years.

What Disneyland likely needs to build first is far less flashy.

The DisneylandForward plan includes an already approved 17,000-space parking garage on an employee parking lot along Disney Way. The new Disneyland garage — which would be one of the largest in the world — would be connected to the parks via a pedestrian bridge over Harbor Boulevard.

The DisneylandForward plan also calls for the eastside parking structure to have direct connections from the Santa Ana (I-5) Freeway — a complex project that would require cooperation from Caltrans and other state officials.

The parking garage, pedestrian bridge and freeway connection projects would likely need to begin before or in tandem with any World of Pandora.

Why?

Because Avatarland — which seems the likely contender to be the first DisneylandForward theme park project to break ground — is widely anticipated to be built on the Hollywood Land backlot area of Disney California Adventure.

The underused backlot isn’t large enough for a World of Pandora — but there’s plenty of space if Walt Disney Imagineering pushes the boundaries of the land out into the Disneyland bus depot along Harbor Boulevard.

The bus depot becomes obsolete unused space with the opening of the Eastside parking garage which could receive buses from the Toy Story parking lot and local off-property hotels. Disneyland would likely build a security checkpoint at the new Eastside garage like the one at the Pixar Pals and Mickey and Friends garages.

Disneyland also needs to address traffic issues before bringing millions of new visitors to the resort area to see all the wonders planned for the next four decades.

Disneyland has pledged to invest $85 million for street improvements in the theme park resort area — including widening Katella Avenue near Harbor Boulevard and expanding the sewer line along Katella.

Part of Disneyland’s pledge includes a $40 million payment allowing Disneyland to take over sections of city roads — including a stretch of Magic Way. Disney won’t take over Magic Way until the city completes intersection improvements along Ball Road at Disneyland Drive and Walnut Street.

DisneylandForward promises to bring millions more visitors to Anaheim.

The combined attendance of Disneyland and Disney California Adventure could nearly double from 26 million visitors today to 40 million to 50 million within 10 to 15 years if Disney builds everything in the DisneylandForward proposal, according to Dennis Speigel, an industry expert with International Theme Park Services.

All those people are going to need a place to sleep — which means a new Disney hotel will likely break ground early in the first decade of DisneylandForward.

DisneylandForward concept art of the Eastside retail area on the Toy Story parking lot features a central lagoon surrounded by shops and a low-rise hotel with a parking structure near the corner of Katella Avenue and Haster Street.

Getting visitors to the parks from the Eastside hotel and parking garage could be accomplished via “themed ride systems” like the Disney Skyliner at Walt Disney World or the former Tomorrowland PeopleMover at Disneyland — both mentioned as options in the DisneylandForward plan.

Details about the Avatar land proposed for the Disneyland resort and other initial elements of DisneylandForward coming to the resort will likely be revealed during the D23 fan event on Aug. 9-11 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Beyond Pandora, a Frozen-themed land would be the next likely project to come out of the DisneylandForward plan. The World of Frozen themed land debuted at Hong Kong Disneyland in November and a similar Frozen Kingdom is coming to Tokyo DisneySea in June.

A carbon copy of one of the two Frozen lands or pieces from both would be a natural fit for the Disneyland expansion envisioned north of the Disneyland Hotel. The Disneyland expansion across Disneyland Drive would likely extend across a pedestrian bridge that connects at the dead end of Critter Country.

What comes next is anyone’s guess.

A Toy Story or Coco themed land would make sense as the first project in the Disney California Adventure expansion into the parking lot south of Pixar Place Hotel. The DCA expansion would likely extend across a pedestrian bridge that connects the Paradise Gardens food court and the Inside Out Emotional Whirlwind attraction.

A Coco land would pair nicely with DCA’s Paradise Gardens that has served as a base for Viva Navidad celebrations. A Toy Story land would expand Pixar Pier across Disneyland Drive toward the recently rethemed Pixar Place Hotel.

In the decades to follow, the Disneyland extension could get Tangled, Peter Pan and Zootopia lands while the DCA extension could get the Black Panther and Encanto lands dangled in DisneylandForward pitches over the past three years.

Imagineering could also go in a completely different direction based on a surprise Disney, Pixar, Marvel or Star Wars movie hit that hasn’t even been dreamed up yet. Anything could happen in the next 40 years now that Disneyland has been given the freedom to build whatever it wants.

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