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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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  • Misterjohnson .... That is a brilliant idea.

    That and bringing them in with a new ... "state of the art" ... ELECTRICAL PARADE.

    At the end of the day ... all it takes is one massively appealing ride or parade or some other once in a lifetime, only see it here kind of spectacle to carry a park for years.

    I am willing to bet that the Electrical Parade as it is now is 50% of the reason people are buying 1 and 2 day park hoppers in California. Even though it hasn’t changed a bit in 20 years.... people would probably follow that parade to North Dakota if they had to.

    What happened to the Disney that used to build things that would give Area 51 a run for its money in the technological department?

    Like Fantasmic for instance. Who ever heard of projecting images on a stream of water before that?  It was simple.... yet simply amazing.

  • Any thoughts on why this $1.2 billion plan approved by the Board wasn't mentioned on the earnings call Wednesday, even when current and future capital expenditure levels were questioned?

  • Expedition Everest didn't cost $1.2 billion, and it managed to raise attendance and interest at DAK. Just think of how many attractions and additional theming $1.2 billion could buy for DCA, and you'll see Disney's reasoning. Yes, retrofitting existing structures will cost more, but there is plenty of land for DCA to build on (the Timon lot, the abandoned food court in Hollywood Pictures Backlot and the area behind it) that wouldn't involve that sort of construction. I think they can pull it off with that budget (which doesn't include an already under construction E-Ticket).

    One commenter put it best in the last article: DCA is a great park, it's just too bad it was built next to Disneyland. You can't really compare the two. I love the park, and I think it currently has a lot of attractions and shows to fill one day (unlike some other Disney parks). These additions will only make it better.

    I personally can't wait until the artwork starts pouring in from the Imagineers. (And I really hope they call the new area Radiator Springs and not Carland. How lame and generic is Carland?).  

  • Hello, I just wanted to say that I’ve been following the Jim hill articles for a while and finally today I became a new member. So if I tend to be a little redundant or even off topic It’s just that I,  like everyone else would like to insert their own two cents. SO….

    Well, as somepirateguy noted, it may be too early to say that $1.2 billion won't be enough without knowing what Bob has planned. I also want to agree with Rluke1971 in that DCA needs nighttime entertainment. Without a number of nighttime offerings, park guests have no incentive to stay in the park. However, I should mention that the park, to it’s own harm, closes after their singular nighttime event. Thank goodness “Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color” is being planned for the lagoon in Paradise Pier.

    To go as far as to say DCA should replace the Electrical Parade with Light Magic is silly; however, not for the reasons one would predict. I think even though Light Magic was unflavored, it had its fans. I think ultimately the biggest reason Light Magic was canned was because of the high cost it took to maintain it.

    Now I enjoy the park, but the problem lies in the fact that there is simply not enough to do in the park. It is true that the design standard is lower than that of Disneyland and years of offering discounts and special offers have not proven  successful. But now Disney has been faced with the option of offering a lower price of admission for the sub standard Disney theme park, or retool the entire park so the consumers actually get what they pay for; and personally I have no problem with a little sprucing up in terms of theme.

    I totally love TheYeti’s idea of building on the Timon lot. That’s just a great opportunity to build more rides and increase DCA’s capacity.

    Bottom line: I enjoy DCA because it’s a nice place to get away from the hustle and bustle of Disneyland crowds, and it’s a nice place to be alone with your thoughts. But DCA does not stand well on its own- and basically I would never spend $63 for a theme park in which you can spend four hours and have experienced everything.  

  • Oh Jim, you are so far off on this article.

    I am familiar with what will eventually happen to DCA during the next ten years and they do not look as bleak as you make them out to be.

    There is a plan to start construction in october for the renovations and no one is over reacting on what the people staying in GCH will be saying.

    Do not forget that the gch will also start construction on its new hotel wing that will be built on the south side of the hotel.  Disney has alsreayd submitted permits to start demolition on parts of the hotels awnings and overhangs to be able to make that addition.  So before anyone gets bothered by the construction crane visible several hundred feet away in DCA there will already be cranes right next to the hotel.

    Explain to us all also your "they will have to do the work after hours" theory.  You think guest will be bothered by construction cranes and noise during the busy park hours but be ok with the noise being done while they are tryng to rest?

    Obviously you have not been in one of the hotels rooms facing the park but the noise emulating from it does not carry that far.

    There are plenty of ways to do construction and minimize noise and other pultions that might affect guests.

    As for the monorail, its been closed before and could easily be turned into a one way circuit that is not a concern.  The areas of the monorail that would be affected  wold be the ones that run near the entrance of the park and through Codnor flats which will eventually get a theme change.

    eventually the monorail will also be affected when Condor flats gets its next attraction after 2012

    As for the 1.7 versus 1.2 also not an issue.  first of all the 1.2 billion addition is above and beyond the budget allocated for DCA by TDA.  their are other projects that WDI and TDA have in mind that would be constructed and budgeted with additional funds by TDA.

    There are also parts of the itinitial project that would not impact the overall idea that is being looked at for DCA.  They are projects that could wait for later on in the parks future.  One example is the removal of Muppets 3d and being replaced with a new attraction.  Muppets replacement is somethng that could wait since Muppets 3d is still a viable attraction that could stay a few more years.

  • I had the pleasure of getting to spend a day at Disneyland/DCA for the first time just 3 days ago... Disneyland was my favorite, but DCA was lots of fun too.

    As far as the California Screamin coaster goes, adding the villains seems unessecary, but it could be fun. The coaster is already great as it is (especially the 60 mph blast off at the beginning!), but the villains might even make it better. I also did notice the construction site going on right around the coaster, but no workers were there, and it dawned on me after reading this article that they must work at night.

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