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Is Disney looking to trade its 5th Avenue store in for a brand-new retail location down on Times Square?

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Is Disney looking to trade its 5th Avenue store in for a brand-new retail location down on Times Square?

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As you might expect, NYC's World of Disney is currently all tricked out for trick-or-treat time.

Photo by Jim Hill

And as you wander all three floors of this 5th Avenue store, you'll find all sorts of Halloween-related materials. From 15th anniversary "Nightmare Before Christmas" merch ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... to this somewhat sinister Mickey Mouse t-shirt.

Photo by Jim Hill

But as for the staff of World of Disney ... Well, they weren't exactly in a festive mood when last I visited this 24,000 square foot retail space. These folks were still reeling from the news that the Mouse had decided not to renew its lease on the old Coca-Cola building.

Why is Mickey opting out of 711 Fifth Avenue? From what I hear, Disney's decision has a lot to do with the ridiculous rents that retailers are now being asked to pay in this part of town. Where landlords are commanding as much as $2,500 per square foot for commercial retail space.

So even though the Walt Disney Company has operated its flagship store in this location since October of 1996 (And just four years ago spent tens of millions to turn this 5th Avenue showplace into a World of Disney), Mouse House officials are now officially on the prowl for a new spot to set up shop in NYC. Someplace that will hopefully have lower rent as well as higher foot traffic.

"And where might that be?," you ask. Well, for a while there, there were very strong rumors that Disney was looking at building something sizable at the corner of 46th & Broadway. You know? Where that old HoJos used to be located?

But then -- in December of 2007 -- American Eagle swooped in and signed a 15 year, $300 million lease with Jeff Sutton & SL Green Realty Corp. And that Pittsburgh-based retailer is now in the process of building a three story tall, 26,500 square foot shop right at the edge of Times Square.

Photo by Jim Hill

It reportedly really pained Mickey to miss out on that 46th & Broadway location. Given that it was located literally right next door to the Lunt-Fontanne theatre. Which used to be where Broadway's "Beauty & the Beast" was presented and is now home to the stage version of Disney's "The Little Mermaid."

Photo by Jim Hill

But then came word that Vornado was planning on closing down the Virgin Megastore that it operates in Times Square in early 2009. And suddenly the Mouse missing out on that Howard Johnson didn't seem quite so bad anymore.

Photo by Jim Hill

If Disney can actually get its hands on all of the property that Vornado has available at 1540 Broadway (Which isn't just the 60,000 square foot retail space that the Virgin Megastore currently occupies. But also a 40,000 square foot movie theater as well as a 20,000 square foot restaurant / arcade space) ... There's room enough there to build a truly super-sized complex. Something that could potentially dwarf the nearby Toys R Us Times Square.

And then when you factor in that location is just down the block from ABC's Times Square studios ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... not to mention being right across the street from where "The Little Mermaid" & "The Lion King" are being presented ...

Photo by Jim Hill

... and just a block or so away from where "Mary Poppins" is being presented at the New Amsterdam ...

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... we're talking about synergy central here. Where the Walt Disney Company could create a next-generation retail / entertainment complex that would not only appeal to all of the tourists who already visit Times Square, but also give those folks who have tickets to Disney Theatrical productions a new place to go either pre-show or post-show.

Now let me stress here that this is far from a done deal. From what I hear, the Mouse has allegedly expressed an interest in this primo piece of real estate. But then again so have a lot of other people. And then when you factor in that the Related Companies owns 51% of Virgin Megastores versus Vornado's 49% stake in that company ... Any negotiations here are going to get complicated.

Now couple that bit of news with the recent rumor that Disney's negotiators have supposedly tried to take advantage of what's been going on with Wall Street. With the hope that they'd then be able to sign a lease for this piece of property at a far lower price ... And -- once again -- things start to get complicated.

But know this, folks: The Walt Disney Company really does want a retail presence in Times Square. Not only because of all of that tourist foot traffic and/or the additional exposure. But also because the rents down there -- at least in comparison to what retailers are now being forced to pay up on 5th Avenue -- seem downright affordable (i.e. $800 per square foot versus $2,500 per square foot).

Mind you, the Mouse can -- and will -- walk away from the negotiating table if it doesn't get a deal that it likes. Back in the early 1990s when the Walt Disney Company was looking to set up its NYC flagship store, company representatives spent years walking up and down 5th Avenue. They looked at commercial retail space that was available in Rockefeller Center and Trump Tower. But in the end, they opted to wait 'til the right location came along at the right price.

Which is pretty much Disney's strategy this time around too. Even though there is something of a ticking clock (i.e. the company's lease on 711 5th Avenue is expiring in 2010), Mickey's willing to play it cool. Especially since the Mouse knows that -- given the way that the economy is going -- there will undoubtedly be other real estate opportunities opening up around Times Square in the not-so-distant future.

But what do you folks think? If Disney were to build a next generation retail / entertainment complex right in the heart of Times Square, would you then take a trip to NYC just to check it out?

Your thoughts?

And speaking of ambitious new Disney construction projects ... Shelly Smith over at FabRocks has some interesting info about what may be going on with those long-empty buildings over on the "Legendary Years" side of Disney's Pop Century Resort. So go check her story out.

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  • Sounds interesting to me.  There's a definite opportunity for synergy here.  The Fifth Avenue store is too out of the way.

  • A boutique hotel/mini-DVC property in the middle of Times Square certainly sounds intriguing and the potential to bundle primo theatre tickets into the cost of the room would certainly be enticing to Disney.  

    I would prefer to see something on a smaller scale (hotel, retail, character dining) versus something larger that includes entertainment.  If Disney decides to pursue Rasulo's "location based entertainment" concept then I think that that should be done in an area outside of NYC.  Some place where they can get a bigger presence and without the competition of Times Square.

    Without knowing the terms of Virgin's Downtown Disney contracts, I wonder if they would be inclined to negotiate a better deal on the Times Square real estate in exchange for a early out of their Westside lease.  That location has to be a black hole of nothingness when it somes to sales versus square footage.

  • I actually prefer the 5th avenue store. I avoid Time Square like the plague, and will be less likely to visit the store if I have to go into that swarming mess of tourists... but that's just me.

    Hey, Jim - speaking of synergy, don't forget the ESPNZone right there!

  • I live only an hour from the city, and it sounds great to me.... but I will miss the nostalgia of the current location.  Then again, if more retail space means newer, more varied merchandise.... wait, I doubt that.

    I'm indifferent, though I'd rather stroll 5th Avenue than barge into Times Square.  The current World of Disney is about a block away from one of my favorite NY restaurants. :3

  • If in New York City (I live in California) I'd deffinately visit the Times Square or 5th Ave. store. There is one thing about this article that I may warn you about Jim. If you have said anything that may have blown Disney's intentions wide open, your Disney source may not be willing to talk to you for awhile. (Like, never again) Somethings like this are best left unmentioned until the contract is signed, sealed and delivered.

  • 5th Ave straddles tourism and the luxury market. Some of the 5th Ave locations operate more as loss leaders for their respective chains. So I do think Times Square is better suited for a wider tourist crowd, especially in this economy.

    What do you guys think of the Virgin property mostly being underground?

  • If Disney were to build a next generation retail / entertainment complex right in the heart of Times Square, would you then take a trip to NYC just to check it out?

    Nope.  But as wec said, I would go if I were already in NYC.  Haven't ever been to this one, so it doesn't really matter to me.  Hopefully they can do something great.

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