Saturday, April 14, 2012

Major Changes Planned for Downtown Disney Orlando

When Downtown Disney closed Pleasure Island is was unofficially acknowledged to be a combination of factors including increased competition from CityWalk at Universal Orlando and the fact that the new ticketless version of Pleasure Island was attracting a lot of people who just hung out and didn't spend much money. Yeah, they were making money, but they thought a new model could make them much more.

So they developed a plan to turn Pleasure Island into a new dining and outside entertainment district focused on some nationally known brands to act as anchor tenants. That plan turns out to have been dead on arrival due to a downward spiraling economy and the inability to get any major players to sign a contract. So they changed focus slightly to a more garden-esque feel that we've known as Hyperion Wharf. That too has been dismissed for reasons similar to the above. In the meantime Pleasure Island's once popular establishments have sat idle and much missed by fans. So what's next?

Turns out what's next may be the biggest expansion of Downtown Disney ever.

Disney has two problems right now. Downtown Disney is busier than ever, so they need to add capacity. Additionally, guests are leaving Disney property (three words Disney does not like to hear as it means your money is going in someone else's wallet) to go get their night time entertainment on or they're just retiring early to their rooms. To Disney that adds up to untapped revenue. They way to get that revenue is to build a brand new entertainment district at Downtown Disney with plans to ultimately double the size of Pleasure Island and the Westside.

In short, Disney has decided the best way to compete with CityWalk is to really compete with CityWalk.

A feasibility study is well underway looking at a plan similar to the one I've highlighted below. It's assembled from a few sources, so I may not have all the details correct, but the general thrust is true.

The basic plan is to build new parking garages along the I-4 and then add either a two-level entertainment district or more garages with an entertainment district above them on the other side of Buena Vista Drive. If they can get the State DOT to play along there would even be an off ramp from the I-4 right into the parking garages (yeah, Disney Imagineers dream of this all the time, but I've never seen it approved yet. There is always a street exit too.)

It looks like there are also plans to add more theater and concert hall venues down at the end of Westside beyond where Cirque Du Soliel is now. It's not clear if this is part of the major expansion or something on a separate track.

It sounds to me like this plan is fairly developed with Disney haven't already reached out the the state to see what it would need to get the off-ramp built. The question for me is, would this satisfy the real needs of the Walt Disney World resort? What do you think?

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