The Walt Disney Co. is planning to spend between $1.9 billion and $2.5 billion over 10 years on an expansion of its Disneyland Resort in Anaheim, Calif., which it has dubbed “DisneylandForward.” The company is aiming to update its agreement with the city to shift unbuilt developments that were permitted in the 1990s and build a new parking structure.
Disney has not publicly shared definitive plans for the expansion, but an environmental analysis completed last year and comments company representatives have made at city meetings reveal some details. Rachel Alde, vice president of global development for Disney Experiences, said during an Anaheim City Council meeting Jan. 23 that the company aims to create more “immersive experiences.” She pointed to examples at Disney parks in Hong Kong and Shanghai that blend attractions, hotels, restaurants and retail sharing a single theme, like the movie “Frozen” or “Zootopia.”
Those immersive experiences are more expansive than traditional theme park attractions—one such park set to open at Tokyo DisneySea this spring is 30 acres— but are needed to keep Disneyland competitive with new innovations and continue drawing guests, Alde said.
“We want to set ourselves up for the next 10, 20, 40 years,” she said.
With Disneyland surrounded by other occupied properties, its room for expansion is limited. But the company has suggested it could turn some of its property in an area zoned just for hotels west of the existing park into an immersive theme park, and a parking lot southeast of the park into “a new kind of Disney entertainment.” It has also suggested building a parking structure on the site of another parking lot east of the park, as well as pedestrian bridges over public roads to link the planned garage and immersive park to the existing park.
To do all that, Disney needs city officials to update their development agreement with the company, which they signed in 1996 and lasts through 2036. Ted White, Anaheim’s deputy city manager and planning director, said during the recent council meeting that the proposal is to update the agreement and extend it through around 2064. The update would shift some zoned uses, such as amending the that hotel-zoned property for other theme park uses.
“Essentially, it all becomes one large district,” White said.
City staff have been working with Disney on a draft agreement. According to White, it includes millions of dollars that Disney would pay the city, such as $30 million toward affordable housing, $8 million for city parks and up to $10 million for sewer infrastructure upgrades. Disney would also continue its workforce development and jobs program and provide reimbursement to the city for public safety costs and planning, permitting and inspection services.
One aspect of the proposal in particular has drawn opposition from some residents. Disney is asking the city to give it control of portions of three streets neighboring its property. In exchange, the company would pay the city the appraised value of the land, which White said has been preliminarily estimated at $40 million. More than 200 people have signed an online petition opposing the move, and the proposal was the subject of many comments from residents at the recent city council meeting.
The proposal may also face additional scrutiny after former Anaheim Mayor Harry Sidhu resigned in 2022 amid allegations of promoting his own interests in his work for the city. Sidhu later pleaded guilty to obstructing an FBI public corruption investigation and making false statements to FBI agents related to a federal probe into the failed sale of the Anaheim Angels’ stadium to the MLB team.
Anaheim resident Cynthia Ward, speaking during a public comment session at the council meeting, said many residents’ perception of how city hall operates has not changed since the scandal.
“I would love to welcome Disney’s investment in their property … but Disney’s heavy handed behavior before and after Harry Sidhu’s disgrace hasn’t left a bank of goodwill with neighbors,” Ward said.
There will be more meetings before city officials agree to any update with Disney. White said he expects the Public Planning Commission will hold a hearing about the proposal in March, followed by a city council hearing in April.