While summer is usually a time for vacations and relaxation while little gets
done in corporate offices, this year a few key divisions and departments of the
Walt Disney Company are skipping the beach and instead are in high gear and
buzzing with excitement about the immediate future of Anaheim.
I promised you a Disneyland update, and that's what you'll get today on the
park's 52nd anniversary. (I was going to attach the second part of the Las Vegas
photo essay to this but will instead post that when I get a little more time to
Got that huge pink doughnut from Kwik-E-Mart unwrapped yet? Mmmmm. Did you
get a Buzz Cola too? Well then let's get started, as we have a larger-sized update
for you today! - Al
DCA - the players
Earlier this year we broke the news on the proposal that Bob Iger was going
to take to the Board of Directors on the future direction for Anaheim, and that
decision was formally made earlier this month after the Board mulled over the
plans and proposals. While the final budget wasn't the shoot-for-the-stars 1.5
billion plan that John Lasseter encouraged Imagineering (WDI) to dream up, the
Board did plunge right in and approve right around one billion dollars in improvements
and additions for California Adventure (DCA) into early next decade. The end result
is that the creative folks in WDI's Glendale headquarters are downright giddy, and
the suits in Team Disney Anaheim (TDA) out back are just as giddy but slightly
shell-shocked at the huge budget numbers that have been approved to fix DCA.
If you had tried to tell a TDA exec five years ago that Anaheim would be
receiving this kind of huge capital investment so soon after the multi-billion
dollar resort expansion of 1997-2001, they would have laughed you out of their
yellow building. But along came the 50th in 2005 with huge profits and
encouraging spending patterns that made Burbank sit up and take more notice of
the "little theme park" down the freeway. As the wildly successful celebration
rolled along, Disneyland cemented its new financial clout with Burbank execs
with even stronger financial results in 2006.
Then came the corporate shake-up crafted by Bob Iger to divorce the Company
from the biggest mistakes of the Eisner era, and in stepped Pixar's John Lasseter as
Disneyland's favorite new uncle who was happy to lavish unprecedented political
clout on the Anaheim property. It was a one-two punch of both financials and
politics that vaulted the Disneyland Resort from an aging afterthought to a
stylish flagship with untapped potential in the minds of key executives like Bob
Iger and Parks chief Jay Rasulo.
Meanwhile, Lasseter happily keeps the bigwigs focused on Anaheim so they
aren't too distracted by the continuing struggles in Hong Kong and Paris. Not
since Walt visited Disneyland almost weekly in the 1950's and 60's has so much
of Burbank's corporate attention been focused on Anaheim. And the new creative
executive structure being put in place in Glendale with Lasseter's approval is
designed to maintain that focus for the long term. As it currently stands,
Lasseter has set up a system where a key WDI executive is in charge of each
Anaheim park; Tony Baxter is now in charge of Disneyland, and Bob Weis is in
charge of DCA.
The huge new Toy Story Midway Mania attraction
under construction at DCA.
Of course Tony Baxter is already well known. But Bob Weis may not be a
familiar name to most West Coast Disney fans. Bob is a veteran Imagineer who was
responsible for much of the initial design work on MGM Studios and the scuttled
Disney's America park in Virginia (from which some concepts were borrowed and
then stripped way down in quality for DCA). He struck out on his own and started a
successful design firm once he saw the writing on the wall during the darkest
years of the Eisner era, but kept his rolodex updated with Burbank and Glendale
It should be noted here that this single creative guru for each Anaheim park
is a unique setup. As it currently stands, WDW has been assigned Tom Fitzgerald
to oversee the Magic Kingdom, Epcot and the Studios park combined (look for even
more exciting tile murals in Orlando folks), while Joe Rohde continues to
oversee Animal Kingdom. Only in Anaheim do you have a celebrity heavy hitter
overseeing each park, and with a budget that's bigger than Florida's planned
investment no less. While Bob Weis may have a billion dollar budget to work with
to fix DCA, trust us when we tell you that Tony Baxter isn't resting on his
laurels when it comes to his future plans for Disneyland, but more on that in a
It can't be understated that this huge sum of money to fix DCA has the
potential to make a bigger impact on Anaheim by early next decade than the
entire Resort expansion of 2001 did. The billion dollar plan doesn't even
include the normal investment and spending that is already heading to Anaheim
for Disneyland itself, and the existing money-making properties that are
receiving separate budgets like the huge rehab of the Disneyland Hotel, the
upcoming Downtown Disney expansion, and the DVC units at the Grand Californian.
DCA - where do they start?
So the budget has been approved, and now you're probably wondering what
As the new creative executive in charge of the DCA remake, Bob
Weis has been tasked with hammering out the timetable with the TDA team. We'd
told you before about the different priorities that were behind any major DCA
expansion in the form of operational requirements versus creative dreams. The
blue-sky sketches and plans that WDI created for Bob Iger's sales pitch to the
board last month showed the end result after about five years of heavy
construction and hard work. The snazzy artwork didn't include the plan on how to
get there while keeping DCA open as an operating theme park. And that's exactly
what is being hammered out now over the next five weeks.
The two current entertainment additions for DCA we've told you about; Walt
Disney's Wonderful World of Color lagoon show and the new Pixar Play Pals Parade
are not included in the expansion budget approved by the board. Those two
entertainment offerings, as well as the Toy Story Midway Mania ride currently under
construction, were already being paid for out of Anaheim's capital investment
plan, and they were going to be happening whether the board approved additional
money for DCA or not.
But now the timing of the new parade and lagoon show debuts is up in the air.
Can you run a big parade if the entire entrance area at DCA and the parade
step-off zone is under construction and being remade into 1932 Hollywood? Can
you try to squeeze 10,000 viewers around the lagoon for a massive new water show
every night if the surrounding Route 66 and Paradise Pier areas are being torn
apart and rebuilt into a Victorian seaside resort? Those are just a few of the
questions being asked and answered this summer.
Mater and Lightening McQueen in their new DCA
Flats location, until Carland and Cars 2 comes along.
Others include: What new attractions have the highest hourly capacity versus
the biggest draw? Does California Screamin' reworked to a Disney Villains theme
with new special effects prove to be just as popular as the massive Cars
addition with the dual-lane Test Track ride system? Which one of those E Ticket
rides opens first, the one that ties in with Cars 2? Does TDA finally put their
foot down and insist that moving a revamped Golden Dreams show into a ritzy Walt
Disney Theatre facility at the front of the park makes little sense
operationally? Or do they realize that Walt Disney Theatre concept is near and
dear to many Imagineers hearts and give in on that one to buy some goodwill with
the creative types?
There are a dozen logistical questions for every major portion of the DCA
plan, and they all need to be answered this summer before the bulldozers move in
and the serious work begins. And remember, DCA has to keep operating for paying
customers through the middle of all of this.
DCA - the plan
What has been agreed upon is the concept that as DCA is fixed and expanded
over the next five years that WDI will go in to fix an area only once. Instead
of dividing projects up over years and distributing them throughout the park,
the thought is that it would be best to just go in to each area of DCA with guns
blazing and fix it completely once and for all. And if that means closing off
entire sections of the park for extended periods of time, then the hostesses
taking complaints at the Guest Relations desk need to be ready for that. But
it's those types of logistical hurdles that could push the debut of Wonderful
World of Color back to 2010, or stall next years new Pixar parade for a year or
more. By the end of this summer the basic timeline for DCA construction should
be determined, and some of the new entertainment already in the pipeline may be
delayed because of it. We'll keep you updated, or course.
The other new addition being held up is the plan to spruce up the section of
Paradise Pier that surrounds the new Toy Story Midway Mania ride. As
construction continues on that new facility, it will be clearly obvious that
this is a very different type of architecture than the cheap strip-mall stucco
and vinyl signage that Paradise Pier opened with in '01. The new ride building
will be fitted out with very distinctly themed Victorian architecture, complete
with gingerbread trim and all the bells and whistles. The plan was to continue
that new theme to the surrounding structures along the boardwalk, from the
carousel to the midway games and shops across from the Sun Wheel. This was just
going to be an overlay to the existing structures, and the budget for this
beautification is relatively modest at 18 Million.
Just the added details in
the new Toy Story ride roof frames (below) blow away
the simple stucco and plywood facade in the rest of the Paradise Pier area
But the TDA bean counters are hesitant to release those funds lest the much
bigger remake now coming to Paradise Pier scraps some of that initial work for
even more richly themed structures. A decision has to be made soon to get
the ball rolling on that small project, or they run the risk of having the
elaborately themed Toy Story ride open next June alongside the cheap look of the
original Paradise Pier. But that timeline also butts up against the desire to
only go in and fix each area of DCA once, instead of only doing some of it and
then coming back for a bit more a year or two later.
While there promises to be plenty of construction walls in DCA's future, the
good news is that the Burbank executives have fully realized that DCA can not
continue in its current uninspiring and underperforming format. And a few weeks
ago the Board of Directors put their money where their mouth is to the tune of a
Billion. There are even some folks at WDI who are saying that if DCA gets
everything the board just approved that DCA could rival DisneySea or Epcot as
one of the best second-gates in the Disney empire. That sentiment may be hard to
believe for anyone who has visited DCA in its current form, with the visual
intrusions from outside the park, its dismal layout and its off-the-shelf rides.
But that's just how excited people are in Glendale this summer.
Not only that, but there's a current proposal by some in TDA to publicly
spill the beans on this massive Resort plan. The thought is that by announcing
the exciting and impressive new direction DCA is taking it would force the hand
of the Anaheim Planning Commission who want to kick the city's golden goose by
hemming in the Disney property with uninspiring apartment buildings and shoebox
condos. Depending on how the messy saga plays out with the city council and the
housing developers there may be an uncharacteristic public announcement of this
new Anaheim plan in the near future.
Disney aficionados all over the world would go nuts over most of the DCA
artwork, that's for sure.