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Why For the DCA renewal project may be a lot more difficult (more importantly, a lot more expensive) than you might think

Why For the DCA renewal project may be a lot more difficult (more importantly, a lot more expensive) than you might think

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In response to last week's "Why For," Lou P. writes in to say:

Your latest column just doesn't make any sense to me. Back in the earlier 1990s, the Imagineers were given $1.4 billion and told to do something spectacular with Disneyland's old parking lot. Working with that limited amount of money, they were then able to build the Disney's California Adventure theme park, the Grand Californian Hotel as well as Downtown Disney.

So now the Imagineers have been given $1.2 billion and are being told to retool DCA. Given how far WDI was able to stretch virtually the same amount of money the last time around, I don't understand why you're now being so downbeat about the prospects of California Adventure revival project. Surely some good will come from the Walt Disney Company pouring over a billion dollars into this troubled theme park.


Photo courtesy of Jeff Lange

Dear Lou P.

First of all, I don't see myself as being downbeat when it comes to WDI's DCA revival. I'm just trying to be realistic here. More importantly, I'm trying to set some realistic expectations for JHM readers about what the Imagineers will be able to do (And -- more importantly -- will NOT be able to do) with $1.2 billion over the next 10 years.

Secondly, your e-mail actually touches on one of the biggest problems that Bob Weis and his California Adventure redevelopment team are facing right now. In that it is far easier to turn an empty parking lot into a theme park than it is to build up, over & around a previously existing set of rides, shows and attractions. As anyone who has ever worked in construction will tell you, retrofits can get expensive fast.

Don't believe me? Okay. Then let's take a look at the $30 million that WDI spent in 2005 to convert DCA's defunct "Superstar Limo" dark ride into "Monsters, Inc. Mike and Sulley to the Rescue!" Or -- better yet -- the rumored $150 million that the Imagineers had to spend in order to pull Disneyland's old submarine fleet out of mothballs and then convert this long-closed Tomorrowland attraction into the "Finding Nemo Submarine Voyage."


Photo courtesy of Jeff Lange

Now keep in mind that Weis is supposedly under specific orders to use as much of the pre-existing theme park as he possibly can. So in a lot of these cases, you're going to see Bob & his boys strip standing DCA buildings down to their bare steel. So that they can then build brand-new rides, shows or attractions right on top of the skeletons of those old structures.

This type of construction (While it may have minimal impact on DCA's previously existing infrastructure) will be incredibly costly. And did I mention that the suits back in the Team Disney Anaheim building want to keep as much of California Adventure open as possible while Weis and his design / construction team are completely reinventing this theme park from within?

Speaking of keeping things open ... Disneyland Resort managers want this soon-to-get-underway DCA redo project to have next-to-no impact on the guests staying at the Grand Californian. After all, people pay top dollar to get a spectacular view of the Disneyland Resort's newest theme park (Not to mention their exclusive back door access to DCA). So Grand Cal managers don't want any construction cranes standing on site for months at a time, mucking up their hotel's view.


Photo courtesy of Jeff Lange

And let's not forget about the Monorail. One of the key selling points of the Disneyland Hotel is that this resort features a future-that-never-was transportation system that zooms its patrons (At a not-so-astounding 10-35 MPH) right into the heart of Tomorrowland. Thereby giving Disneyland Hotel guests the jump on all of the other folks who are visiting "The Happiest Place on Earth" that day. So whatever Bob & the guys from Glendale are planning on doing at DCA, it has to have a minimal impact on the Monorail. Otherwise WDI is going to be creating a lot of heartache for the people who operate the Disneyland Hotel.

You getting a sense yet, Lou, of all of the logistical problems that Weis and his team are having to deal with? This redo / retheming project is one very complicated set of dominoes that has to fall in just the right way in order to limit the negative impact that all this deconstruction / reconstruction work will have on the Disneyland Resort, both from an operations as well as a guest experience point-of-view. Which more than likely means that a lot of this work will have to be done after-hours by someone who's then being paid triple overtime pay.

Okay. Taking all of this new information into account, do you now understand why this $1.2 billion may not go as far as Disneyana fans originally thought it hoped? Given how much of this money will actually have to be spent on issues that are totally unrelated to show (i.e. Construction fencing, on-site demolition, the clearing of debris, rewiring, etc. ), those of you who are now expecting Tokyo DisneySea II may be in for a bit of a disappointment.


 Photo courtesy of Jeff Lange

Look. There's no two ways about it. What Bob Weis and his DCA urban renewal team are about to attempt is going to be extremely difficult, very time consuming and prohibitively expensive. And those of you who are now picturing -- once all of this work is completed in 2017 -- a park that's bulging with state-of-the-art, supremely themed, hyper-detailed E-Tickets just aren't being realistic. Because the $1.2 billion that's been budgeted for this project will only go so far.

Mind you, what we'll end up with will be a vastly improved DCA. One that will now tell a semi-coherent story as well as feature a full day's worth of entertainment. But -- that said -- California Adventure still won't be as good as Disneyland is.

Which is perfectly understandable. Given that (When all of this work is completed in 2017), Disneyland will be 62 years-old while DCA will only be 16 years-old. It's going to take another few decades worth of construction -- with lots of new rides, shows and attractions being added & then removed from California Adventure's line-up -- before that theme park finally becomes a worthy companion for "The Happiest Place on Earth."


 Photo courtesy of Jeff Lange

Of course, in today's instant-messaging culture, where people want everything right now ... I know that this message of ...

A) $1.2 billion isn't going to go as far as Disneyana fans originally thought it would, and

B) We're still decades away from DCA being as good as Disneyland is today

... isn't going to play all that well with Disneyana fans. But I guess that's what comes of being the online equivalent of a killjoy. Being the guy who brings up reality whenever everyone else wants to talk about Fantasyland.


 Photo courtesy of Jeff Lange

Speaking of the more down-to-earth aspects of this project ... You want proof that $1.2 billion isn't going to enough to cover the complete overhaul of California Adventure. Okay, then. Then let's talk about the budget for this redo project that the Imagineers originally asked for. Which was $1.7 billion.

"Why $1.7 billion?," you ask. Because Weis and his team knew going into this California Adventure overhaul that there were lots of infrastructure / back-of-the-house issues that had to be dealt with. Which were in addition to all of the new rides, shows and attractions that DCA so desperately needed. And $1.7 billion would give Bob & his boys just about everything that they needed in order to address both the show as well as the non-show related aspects of this project.

But Disney's Board of Directors balked at that $1.7 billion price tag. And only after much negotiation did they agree to give WDI $1.2 billion for the California Adventure overhaul. So because that $500 million has been cut out of the budget that was originally proposed for the DCA redo project ... Well, Weis and his team will now have to be that much more creative. Carefully pick and choose what gets built where.


Photo courtesy of Jeff Lange

Of course, once the revamped version of DCA opens and meets with public approval, Bob is hoping that Disney's Board of Directors will then agree to pony up that additional $500 million. But that may take 'til 2022 - 2027 to actually happen.

"Why will Weis have to wait 'til then?," you query. Because once Phase One of California Adventure's overhaul is complete, it will then be time for Disneyland to get some TLC. And let's not forget about that third theme park that the Imagineers eventually want to build on top of the the Fujishige family's strawberry fields. Senior Disney Company officials certainly haven't forgotten about Park No. 3. That's why they've been so desperately trying to mend fences with the Anaheim City Council lately. So that -- in the future -- the path will then be clear for that particular Disneyland Resort expansion project.

But -- of course -- none of that can happen until Park No. 2 finally gets straightened out. Hopefully, that project will officially be able to get underway sometime after October.


Photo courtesy of Jeff Lange

Anyway ... Here's hoping that today's "Why For" column gives you a better understanding of why I wrote what I wrote last week.

Your thoughts?

Special thanks to Jeff Lange for provding the photos of Disney's California Adventure that were used to illustrate today's article. For further information on Mr. Lange's popular series of Disney theme park DVDs, please follow this link.

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  • Spend $200 million each for 4 E tickets that open every 2 1/2 years. That leaves $400 million, or $40 million a year for ten years to build his storytelling facades.

    Just like when making a movie, it depends how the accountants divide up the existing overhead into costs associated with each project. If they edge pre-existing costs into this new $1.2 bill budget, the $$$ will disappear rapidly. Otherwise, there's a whole lotta moolah to play with.

    Disney Co has already tried the "lowering expectations" route. If he can't make significant changes and add 3 or 4 E Tickets for that amount, maybe Bob's not the guy for the job.

  • I think its premature to says that $1.2 billion won't be enough without knowing what they have planned.  If it were me...I would dive into the Timon parking lot first off.... its nice and far away from the Grand Californian and is isolated from the existing in park, guest areas...they can rip up the lot and build the volcano from TDS or do whatever with NO impact on the current park.

    Once this new area is finished..open it up and shut down Paradise Pier or some other area...one "land" goes online while another is taken off....little to no impact on the number of attractions... park capacity remains status quo...

    http://www.raymation.net

  • Before they go spending 1.2 billion on changing the "theme" of it all.... they might want to consider a few other things.

    Seriously.... who really believes that the reason there is low attendance at DCA has anything at all to do with the "look" and the theme.  Not enough pirates, princesses or pixar at DCA?  Give me a break.

    I think paradise pier is fine ... I mean .... look at the pictures. Its nice. And at sunset its really nice. I personally like the wide open feel of the area along the water oposite Paradise pier. Its a good place to go after a day at the jam packed, almost claustrophobic day at Disneyland. I don't know anyone personally who goes there and complians about this. Only in these articles.

    Yeah.... Disneyland is better and that might be what people say ... but dont think that means it has to all change or be rebuilt. Here's how you fix it .... if DCA is only 60% what Disneyland is ... then make the friggen ticket for DCA only cost only 60% what the ticket for Disneyland is. PROBLEM SOLVED. People will come.

    You aren't going to bring DCA up the level of Disneyland overnight.... or ... um EVER.... so make sure that the place doesn't appear to be a RIP OFF ... its not the experience people get .... its the price in comparison to the other park.

    And not only that... but why close the place at night?  like I said before ... its NICE out there at night. Build on the nighttime entertainment. Put something like Fantasmic in that lake and the place will be packed. The first year they had that Christmas show out on the lake and it was one of the coolest Disney shows I have ever seen. What happened? They cancelled that after the first year because of what?

    Here is an idea ... Try taking the Electrical Parade .... and updating it.  Remember "Lightmagic"? . Does anyone understand why lightmagic was a total failure in the first place?  I don't think it had to do with the floats ... the fiber optics were awesome. The fact that all of main street lit up was also awesome. It was simply the fact that Lightmagic wasn't the MSEP and didn't have the same MUSIC. That is the reason. Period. So they put the whole thing in storage and haven't to this day thought of any other reason to light up main street with those fiber optic lights that surely are still installed.

    My point? I just think that a $150 million dollar investement on a new "Electrical Parade" would be a MUCH more worthwhile project that rebuilding ANY buildings simply because they aren't "Disney" enough.  Just KEEP the music. Thats all they gotta do. Have the entire place light up if needed. Imagine a Sun Wheel and California Screaming covered in fiber optic lighting. Set the standard ... create something new .... blow us away.

    And one more thing .... put Country Bear Jamboree in DCA ... heck even a new AMERICA SINGS .... and people will come. Who here really believes that Pooh ride truly inspires imagination in young kids more that the Country Bears did?

    Here is a clue for the whole resort ... both parks.  Quit taking out rides simply because there is no DVD acociatied with them.

  • I'm sure, however, that WDI never expected to get the full $1.7B. You ask for the world and expect lesser to be approved. Then you end up with a workable budget for what really needs to be done, and hope to show the benefits so that more money will be spent in the future.

    So, we'll up with with a "new and improved DCA" that will have the bones in place for future growth and potential. Disney management appears anxious to take DCA in a new direction, otherwise these changes probably would have just taken place over 20 years insted of 10.

  • I don't know about the $$'s not being enough (history will be the judge of that...because I think we all know they'll NEVER come in right on budget), but, for a simple example of trying to work within existing infrastructure...

    We have only to turn to DL's younger sister: WDW.

    Look at what's happened with the Animal Kingdom Lodge DVC conversion.  That resort was initially planned to remain open and fully functional during it's conversion.  Now, large sections of the resort have had to be closed because the conversion has been more extensive and intrusive than they had planned it to be.

    Those are the types of construction NIGHTMARES that rear heir ugly head when trying to convert an existing structure.  That's why it's oftentimes cheaper to raise a structure, and rebuild it, than it is to remodel it.

  • I think that Imagineers will be able to complete the project with the money alloted.  Yes, retrofitting is expensive.  But with so much of the park there already the areas that are just getting rethemed should not eat up much of the budget at all.  

  • Out of curiosity, am I the only one that simply enjoys DCA? I went with my mom down to Disneyland and DCA about 5 years ago, and we spent more time in DCA than Disneyland. Seriously. DCA was less hectic, the lines were generally shorter, and it just had a generally slower pace. For us, it was the perfect balance with Disneyland.

    It wasn't perfect, of course. The farmer's market seemed kind of out place (although there were some free food samples, so that was nice).

  • Quite frinkly, I'm disappointed with today's article. It sounds like a nasty email to Lou, and it really SHOULD have been a nasty email to Lou. Almost everything in this article was in the previous DCA article. Jim, you should really just dig up new stuff for your articles and put stuff like this in nesty emails to people who don't read the full article - people like Lou.

  • What are the sponsorship prospects for the DCA overhaul?

  • So, we SHOULD be patient for DCA to grow and come into it's own. Don't rush to see the results. Let them gather speed and develop an appreciative audience, before it's deemed a failure.

    But we SHOULDN"T do the same with Cars and Ratatouille? They're a failure right away? Fickle business, that entertainment biz.

  • cbarry - Yes, the entertainment biz is ridiculously fickle.  Films peak at their opening weekend, so it's a completely different story than amusement parks, whose attendance can grow over time after a new attraction (or in Disney's case, just improvements altogether) gets good word of mouth.  People can calculate the expeted gross of a film based on the opening weekend numbers, so based on just that, people can predict whether or not a film will make back its production costs pretty much right away (e.g., Pixar films typically make at least 4x their opening weekend numbers, so an opening weekend of $50 million, you can calculate a $200 million total gross).  

    It's not an exact science of course because it's a lot of guesswork, but there is some accuracy to it.

    I can't say exactly how the park biz is, but I think RLuke's suggestion makes sense.  Lower prices, maybe get more guests to come, so you can make more money that way?

  • I think it’s sad how the business side automatically sees the initial "failure" of DCA as a creative failure.....

    I personally think the blame should go to the joker who thought that you could set the price of the ticket exactly the same as a ticket to Disneyland from day one.

    You get fewer rides, less hours in the park, less everything ... all for the same price?

    The consumer isn't fooled. Everyone I know who goes there says it isn't as much for your money as it is at Disneyland. No-one says the rides suck; the place looks bad, etc.

    I also don't know what the comparison to Disney Sea is all about. Why is that place considered more of a success? Well... probably because the place is packed all of the time. So what's new? Japan is a crowded place. And tourists from other countries flock to DCA as well.

    Disneyland has always been just as much a "locals" place as it is a worldwide destination. And the fact is ... locals know when they are getting overcharged for something.

    Throwing 1.2 billion into the place in an attempt to bring it "up to par" is not a guaranteed way to bring the crowds. Setting the correct price point for what is there now ... is.

    They outta let the fans design what happens to DCA next. Set up a series of contests, polls, and votes. Let people submit ideas and such. That would be new.

  • You are absolutely right, Texmex.  I am a concierge at Animal Kingdom Lodge and the DVC construction has been a nightmare all the way around, for both cast and guests.  We were giving up so much compensation to guests that the original plan of just shutting down a few hundred rooms at a time was drastically changed to shutting down all but 480 rooms.  Making us the smallest resort on WDW property at this time.  

    In a nice frank town hall meeting, the General Manager told us the official timeline, then told us off the record that we could add at least 6 months to it.

  • Disney is missing an opportunity here if they do no play up the fact that this park is being revitalized, re-envisioned, reimagineered.

    THIS is a rare opportunity to visit a theme park IN THE MAKING.   Key areas of construction should be celebrated, not hidden.  Special Lookie-loo Tours (similar to the Guided Tours at DL) should be sold and sneak peaks offered.   Imagineers (real?  or streetmosphere?) shoudl wander the place with rolls of drawings, clipboards, calculators and explain what is going on behind a barricaded facade.

    The vibe should be palpable, SOMETHING BIG IS HAPPENING.  Disney should fuel this thing with the same energy and event-y-ness that surrounded EPCOT Center's preopening year.

    Diminished expectations should be checked at the door.  This ain't your Uncle Paul's DCA.  

  • Honestly, I have to ask this...

    Why does everyone I meet from WDI seem to be a wet towel, or a cold fish, or a bureaucrat?

    Seriously, for a place that is charged with making such special stuff, for a place with a legacy like WDI, for the tens and hundreds of millions of dollars that get spent on stuff they develop, couldn't Bob Iger buy these guys a pulse?

    Rolly Crump was planted in Adventureland back in the early sixties where he dsesigned and built a whole refurbishment right there.  When do you think the hundreds of people employed by this new DCA gig will put that much love and sweat in this project?

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