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Gates open for major Disneyland expansion around original site

Disney could spend $1.9B over the next decade to transform its 490-acre Anaheim property
FILE - Visitors pass through Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., April 30, 2021. (AP Photo/Jae C. Hong, File)

Visitors to Disney’s California parks could one day walk through the snow-covered hamlet of Arendelle from “Frozen” or the bustling, critter-filled metropolis of “Zootopia” under a park expansion plan approved by the Anaheim City Council.

Disney would spend at least $1.9 billion over the next decade to transform its 490-acre (488-hectare) campus in densely-populated Southern California. It would be the biggest expansion of Disney’s Southern California theme parks in decades, aiming to create more immersive experiences for guests. Disney would also be required to spend tens of millions of dollars on street improvements, affordable housing and other infrastructure in the city.

The council unanimously approved the project at the end of an eight-hour meeting that began Tuesday evening, the Orange County Register reported. A second council vote for final approval of Disney’s plan is required in May.

The plan wouldn’t expand Disney’s footprint in tourism-dependent Anaheim but would help it add rides and entertainment by letting the company relocate parking to a new multi-story structure and redevelop the massive lot, as well as make other changes to how it uses its properties.

Disneyland, Disney California Adventure and the Downtown Disney shopping area are surrounded by freeways and residential areas in the city 30 miles (48 kilometers) southeast of Los Angeles, so the company sees the plan as vital to being able to continue to create sizable new attractions.

A significant share of public testimony to the city council focused on Disney’s plans to buy a public street near the theme park and turn it into a pedestrian walkway as well as its intention to add a crosswalk on another neighboring street.

Scott Martindale, who lives nearby, said the crosswalk would improve safety.

“No change or project is perfect. But in this case, the gives I believe outweigh the takes,” he said. Martindale added that Disney conducted community outreach about its expansion plans for three years.

Another neighbor, Cassandra Taylor, said she looks forward to the new rides the expansion will bring. But she’s concerned about Disney’s plans to privatize a city street, adding she first heard of the idea last month in a newspaper article even though she had attended two Disney informational presentations.

“They might have a pedestrian walkway planned now, but once it is theirs, they could just as easily remove it,” Taylor said. “It will be theirs and theirs entirely. Voters will have no say in its future use.”

Ken Potrock, president of the Disneyland Resort, said at the meeting: “We are ready to bring the next level of immersive entertainment here to Anaheim.” Over the last two decades, Disney investments have included Cars Land, Pixar Pier, Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge and Avengers Campus.

Disney has not committed to which stories it plans to feature given that the new development will take years.

It’s the first time Disney has sought a major change to its California theme parks since the 1990s, when the company obtained approvals to turn Disneyland, its original theme park dubbed “the happiest place on Earth” and built in 1955, into a resort hub. It later built the Disney California Adventure theme park and the Downtown Disney shopping and entertainment area.

Disneyland was the second-most visited theme park in the world in 2022 with 16.8 million people coming through the gates, according to a report by the Themed Entertainment Association and AECOM.

Anaheim is Orange County’s most populous city and home to 345,000 people as well as a major league baseball team and a national hockey league team. Hotel revenue typically makes up about half of the city’s revenue and is expected to climb to $236 million this year, according to city estimates.