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So what drove WDW officials to greenlight the Disney Springs project? The traffic tie-ups and tough parking situation that Guests regularly encountered at Downtown Disney

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So what drove WDW officials to greenlight the Disney Springs project? The traffic tie-ups and tough parking situation that Guests regularly encountered at Downtown Disney

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So why exactly did Walt Disney World's November 2010 plan for Pleasure Island  (i.e. turn the center-most section of Downtown Disney into Hyperion Wharf, "a nostalgic yet modern take on an early 20th century port city and amusement pier" which was supposed to have "stylish boutiques and innovative restaurants" as well as "thousands of lights" that would then "transform the area into an electric wonderland" at night) morph into the far more ambitious Disney Springs project that Tom Staggs officially announced earlier today? Believe it or not, it was dropping attendance levels at Downtown Disney.

Hyperion Wharf concept art. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Seriously, folks. According to company insiders that I've spoken with, over the past two years there has been a noticeable fall-off in the number of WDW Guests and Central Florida locals who were willing to make trips over to this 120-acre entertainment, dining & shopping complex. And when Mouse House managers began surveying people to find out why exactly they were now steering clear of the Downtown Disney area, they got some very troubling responses.

Chief among the complaints that WDW Guests and Central Florida locals made about this now nearly 40 year-old waterfront area (Downtown Disney's first incarnation -- the Lake Buena Vista Village -- officially opened for business on March 22, 1975) was how difficult it was to park at. People who had made special trips over to this part of the WDW Resort just to shop at the World of Disney and/or Once Upon a Toy were especially vocal about the lack of available parking to be found in & around Downtown Disney's Marketplace district.

Now factor in the congestion that drivers typically encounter on Buena Vista Drive,  Hotel Plaza Boulevard and South Apopka Vineland Road as they try & make their way over to Downtown Disney (not to mention the extremely heavy traffic that regularly flows through this part of property. Which makes it very difficult for cars to get in & out of DTD's parking lots), and you can begin to see why certain veteran Disney World visitors as well as Central Florida locals have begun avoiding this entertainment, dining and shopping complex.

Disney Springs concept art. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So while Staggs may have spent most of this morning talking up how the Company's plans for Disney Springs will effectively double the number of shops & restaurants that can currently be found at Downtown Disney, the key component of this project, the aspect of this multi-million dollar redo that most excites Mouse House managers, are those two multi-story covered parking garages. One of which will be constructed on the Marketplace side of this 120-acre parcel while the other will be built on the West Side.

Combined, these two massive structures will accommodate 6000 cars. Then when you factor in all of the new roadways that will be built in & around Disney Springs to help ease traffic flow, both WDW veterans and Central Florida locals will hopefully find this side of property a whole lot easier to navigate / much more pleasant to visit once construction is completed in 2016.

Of course, the irony of this whole situation is that -- during this 3 year-long, phased construction project that will eventually transform Downtown Disney into Disney Springs -- WDW officials know that Guest visitation levels for this part of property will likely fall through the floor for a while. If only because people who are visiting Walt Disney World and/or Central Florida locals are going to hear about all of the work that's being done in & around Lake Buena Vista and then think " ... shopping & dining at a construction site doesn't sound like all that much fun to me. I guess I'll hold off on visiting Downtown Disney / Disney Springs 'til my next WDW vacation / when all of this work is finally done."

Disney Springs concept art. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Which is a tough thing for Disney World officials to have to share with the various third party lessees who now run most of Downtown Disney's shops & restaurants. But in order for this side of property to have a far brighter future, that means that shoppers, shop operators and their staffs have to get ready for a somewhat unpleasant, rather disruptive 30 - 36 months.

And speaking of disruptive & unpleasant ... I have a somewhat difficult question to ask right now: The way that I heard it, the initial Disney Springs announcement was originally supposed to have been made during the New Fantasyland press event (which -- as you may recall -- was held on property late last year on December 4 - 7th). In fact, that's why the final media event (i.e. the "What's New / What's Next" presentation) was supposedly scheduled to be held at the AMC Downtown Disney 24.

But then at the last minute, there was a sudden change in this press event's programming. And what had previously been announced as a "What's New / What's Next" presentation then became an "Around Our World" session. Where -- instead of talking up what was next up for Walt Disney World -- Company officials then briefed the press on Aulani, the Disney Cruise Line, Adventures by Disney and Disney Parks & Resorts' new Limited Time Magic promotion.

Disney Springs concept art. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

So why the last minute change in programming? From what I was told by company insiders, December's Disney Springs announcement was postponed because ... Well, I actually heard two very credible explanations. One was that a third party lessee who was supposed to serve as one of the major anchors of the Downtown Disney redo project had suddenly dropped out at the last minute and Disney was then forced to scramble to find another major restaurant and/or retailer to fill their spot on the site plan.

And the other explanation was that the Florida Department of Transportation was dragging its feet when it came to approving that new highway ramp which then would allow drivers to exit I-4 & roll straight into Disney Springs. Thereby eliminating a lot of the vehicular traffic that WDW visitors & Central Florida locals typically encounter out on Buena Vista Drive,  Hotel Plaza Boulevard and South Apopka Vineland Road.

And I couldn't help but notice that -- as part of today's presentation -- we got to see models of those two huge parking garages but heard no mention at all of a dedicated Disney Springs highway ramp. So do any of you Company insiders out there now know if eventual direct access to I-4  is still part of the Downtown Disney revamp plan? Or is that idea (which -- the way I understood it -- was originally thought to be a key component of this project's long term success. Especially since Mouse House managers were hoping that Disney Springs would siphon Central Florida shoppers away from the Mall at Millenia & the Orlando Premium Outlets) now off the table?

A model of Disney Springs. Please note the massive parking garages to the bottom
left and right in this photograph. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

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  • I hadn't heard about the exit off I-4, but that makes complete sense to me.   The traffic around this area is unbearable and this would definitely improve it.      Let's hope that some of the third party lessees can hold out for 30-36 months of construction, seeing that Splitsville just recently opened, they are likely wondering what the heck just happened.   Hopefully phase 1 is at least one of the garages and traffic flow improvements.

  • Interesting that there was no mention of the major retailers or restaurants coming to DISNEY SPRINGS.  Any inside info Jim Hill?  Esp. the replacement for the major retailer that dropped out in December.  Thanks for the great article, this is a good addition to WDW.

  • I hate parking in multi-storey car parks. I will just park at the resort opposite and take the boat or walk across.  Unless the car parks are different to the ones in the UK that is.

  • The old joke "Nobody goes there anymore, it's too crowded" comes to mind.

  • Jim, I remember you being a huge fan of the Adventurers Club like I was back in the '90s when we were there.  Have you heard anything at all about its possible return at Disney Springs?  Artwork online suggests the building will remain, but with a locomotive at one side.  Hogwarts meets the Adventurers Club???

  • Traffics down due to the fact that Comedy Warehouse and Adventurers' are gone,......If they don't return, then neither shell me nor my money need return there as well.,

  • What shops and resteraunts are leaving ? I go to Disney 1-2 time a year, and one place I always go is Planet Hollywood the night I arrive. Now the food isn't the best ( not bad tho), and the place is not the most up to date, it is still for some reason is a must do. I don't know why but for me it's just that little thing that reminds me that I'm "home" and the fun that I have had before and will have.

  • I love how Tom Staggs has to announce every little project. Try sharing the spotlight.

  • Jim, do you know if Disney will make any kind of concession (a rent reduction, perhaps) to their third party lessees?  I doubt any of them qualify as "mom and pop" businesses, but blowing a three year hole in the revenue stream of any business is going to hurt.

  • Hmmm. The parking lot has always been half-empty whenever we visit DD, except around holidays, granted that some folks may have to walk a little distance after parking. And we've never found traffic on LBV Drive all that onerous, as long as you pay attention to your lanes when you come off I-4 at Apopka-Vineland and turn into Hotel Blvd. In fact we prefer that as a route to get to the resorts and parks, We're definitely looking forward to improvements in the area, however, especially in the defunct Pleasure Island. (I hope parking structures don't mean parking fees as well.)

  • @Matthew I don't think the revenue stream will be hit all that bad. Sure the construction wall at Downtown Disney may be an eye sore, but I don't think that's going to keep people from going there. The fact that one of the main problems is the parking means that there are still a lot of people showing up. Unless the completely gut the existing parking lots as they are now, I think their revenue will still be pretty solid.

  • I'm curious if they're going to charge for parking.  We went over to that other resort in town to play their new mini-golf course last year, and felt thoroughly fleeced by the time we had to pay for parking and then pay the rates they were charging for mini-golf.  It's a great course, but it's not worth that much!  Also, the walk from that other resort's garage to their shopping area is ungodly far.  I hope the Disney folks have studied that other enormous parking garage, and figured out how to make theirs better.  I wonder if there will be any changes to the way the buses come in, and if they'll try harder to STOP people from walking and boating in from the resort next door.  Go find your own parking spaces, folks, and don't steal the ones from the people who are staying there!

  • What will Disney Springs cost?  Because there are other area of WDW that need the money.

    Magic Kingdom suffers from an acute lack of quality attractions.  They took out Snow White's Scary Adventures, and put in Mermaid, which is just a clone of a cheap ride from DCA that has gotten mediocre reviews in Anaheim and seems to never have a line.  Seven Dwarfs Mine train, opening late 2013, is an innovative concept with swinging mine cars, but with only a couple dark ride scenes, it can't hold a candle to Splash Mountain.  Yes, guests still want to experience the story via multiple ride scenes, Seven Dwarfs Mine Train should have had as many show scenes as Splash, why go half-way to building an E-Ticket?

    Not only  does MK need a bonafide E-Ticket (lavishly detailed Beauty and the Beast dark ride?), but it needs a couple, and a couple D Tickets as in its current state most guests who actually go to MK realize that you wait in ridiculously long lines and that there aren't enough rides when compared to other parks.  It's going to be funny when they start asking for Fast Pass for the dilapidated Tea Cups!

    I don't really like the concept art for "Disney Springs" (though some individual buildings look OK), as the whole area looks cluttered.  WDW has the resources of WDI, they should have given this area a theme, such as the 1920's (Buena Vista Street writ large), turn it into a replica of New Orleans, or perhaps even a medieval/garden type theme, instead it will wind up looking like so many of the cluttered downtown districts you can see around the country that are a jumble of architectural styles and try to "be something" but just don't make it.  The style of Disney Springs looks like it is straight from the 1990s.

    I actually liked the ground parking of the old place (though had to remember where you parked), parking garages are an eye sore.

  • I have to echo AdamAugust's thoughts - I've never had all that much trouble finding a parking space at DtD, as long as I don't insist on parking right in front of the AMC or on the Marketplace side.  But since a lot of people these days seem to take the attitude that anything that requires more than 5 minutes' walk as an unbearable burden, I can see why all the complaints surfaced.

    Sue, the rumors are already floating that Disney's going to charge for parking once the DtD structures are open - supposedly, one of the reasons they've resisted added structures on the Marketplace side for this long was because they felt they'd get pushback from the public about charging for parking. But hey, they charge to park in Anaheim's DtD and the lot's always full, so I assume people will get over it.  They may even benefit a little - it they charge, Disney loses their main reason for not providing direct transportation from DtD to the theme parks.

    We'll see...

    Jim, any word on how this project will affect the plans for the other shopping district that Disney has on the drawing board that 's supposed to be built near Animal Kingdom and Coronado Springs?  I thought that the project and any re-do of DtD had been put on the back burner because they couldn't find enough retailers interested -- if they're willing to commit to this big a change in insfrastructure, I'm assuming things have changed.

  • Further proof that TDO is lost. WDW is not about shopping, it's about entertainment. That's where PI succeeded in expanding the marketplace and raising revenues. West Side had La Nouba which further helped. But instead of innovating and keeping it fresh, they let it all go stale. Renevues dropped and they shuttered PI to save costs.

    This project is a very big band aid and lacks any apparent innovation. If parking is such a problem build the monorails and people movers that Walt originally had envisioned for this area and resolve the bus problem at the same time. If New Year's Eve every night wasn't sustainable (surprise) then create new entertainment venues that are more family friendly and tie the complex together better. DTD is already too big to comfortablely walk - especially with kids. Expanding its size, putting in huge garages, and double the number of shops is only going to create a mall. No one goes to Disney to go to a mall. Chalk up another victory for Universal.  Between this, New Fantasyland, and My Magic Plus, yes - surely TDO has lost it's way. And Staggs should lose the promotion to Iger's post as clearly he's just as lost.

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