Disney Springs Announced for Downtown Disney

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Disney Springs is the redevelopment of Downtown Disney at Walt Disney World, announced March 14, 2013 and set to complete construction in 2016, but open in phases prior to that. It is a shopping district concept that is intended to revitalize Downtown Disney and replace the disjointed Westside and Pleasure Island with a single, cohesive concept, separated into four areas: Town Square, Landing, Marketplace, and Westside. Construction begins April 2013.

Once complete, Disney Springs will have over 150 establishments (double Downtown Disney’s current number of approximately 75). The redevelopment is designed to evoke the feeling of turn of the century Florida, and Disney Parks & Resorts Chairman Tom Staggs focused heavily on the redesign being a place for families. No announcements have been made concerning the shops, restaurants, and entertainment that will operate at Disney Springs, but speculation is rampant based upon previously leaked plans and a presentation containing the names of numerous third parties, as well as a few Disney-operated restaurants.

The facts of the announcement are covered here and the leaked plans are available here, so we’ll spare you that regurgitated info. Instead, we’ll share our reaction to the news…

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Our Reaction

The failed and aborted plans for Downtown Disney (Hyperion Wharf, anyone?) have been so numerous that it’s difficult to think much of this until we start seeing vertical construction. However, here things do seem a bit different, as more details are known about designers, construction companies, and even tenants that have signed on. Plus, a little speculation is always fun, so we might as well have at it…

Downtown Disney is in such poor shape that just about anything would be an improvement upon the status quo. If a Chuck-E-Cheese were to open up shop tomorrow, I think it’d be tough to argue with that as an improvement over the current situation. However, that’s relatively speaking to the present. If you examine this development relative to August 2008, I don’t think it’s quite as easy to call it an improvement.

Of course, that calls for a comparison to Downtown Disney during a time when Pleasure Island was still operational. Now, I will be the first to admit that a lot of these clubs weren’t in the best of shape and suffered from slumping attendance. Even our beloved Adventurers Club wasn’t always a huge draw with tourists (most nights we visited it had a large number of annoying “regulars” who wowed crowds by reciting the jokes before the performers could make them (not to lump all regulars together, as I’m sure most weren’t this obnoxious)). Still, from our perspective, Downtown Disney was a significantly better experience with Pleasure Island, which was one of the few forms of nightlife on property.

With that said, it has been over 4 years, and clearly Pleasure Island isn’t coming back (Disney’s fixation on things that the will appeal to the family-set is confirmation enough of this), so it’s time to move on.

When judged objectively, and not relative to what’s there now or what was once there, Disney Springs seems like an addition with potential. Nothing spectacular if it just becomes a generic mall, but conceptually decent looking and strong if some solid original concepts are added to the mix. At its core, the design looks like a high end outdoor shopping mall complex like one you’d find in well-off area of Southern California.

Personally, I’m not going to get excited about a shopping mall with third party vendors, no matter where it’s located and how ritzy it is, if that’s all it ends up being, I’ll see it as an adequate fix to an area that has been in poor shape for the last several years, but probably won’t give it a second thought, and will be just as unlikely to visit as we were Downtown Disney, which we haven’t stepped foot in since 2008.

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However, it could end up being a lot more than this, and part of me is excited over this potential. The excitement is primarily over the possibility that a Walt Disney World version of Trader Sam’s will be included in Disney Springs. For those unfamiliar with Trader Sam’s, it’s a tiki bar at Disneyland Hotel (in Disneyland Resort). In my Trader Sam’s review, I called it “one of the greatest things Disney has built in years.”¬†Obviously, since no occupants have been officially announced for Disney Springs, Trader Sam’s opening in Disney Springs is only informed speculation, and it may not even end up in the final plans.

Trader Sam’s, or another unique Disney concept for Disney Springs, is what it will take to get us back to Downtown Disney. Without these unique places, it’s essentially just another mall to us, and we can visit nice malls in any number of cities (surprisingly, even in Indianapolis we have nice malls!). We’re not interested in chain mall-restaurants, and the current occupants of Downtown Disney don’t really excite us.

That’s our personal opinion of Downtown Disney and this concept, and how it appeals to us. We realize that Downtown Disney is a huge draw for the shopping, and this new development will be popular among locals, for whom it will be a great mall to have nearby, and international tourists, who love visiting malls when they come to the states. Disney Springs fills a “need” at Walt Disney World, and gives some guests a reason to stay on-site when they otherwise might have gone to another mall.

For us, without the presence of unique draws, it will be just another mall. Although I don’t begrudge Disney for building things that will appeal to some of its guests, the number of things justified in recent years as being pragmatic additions solely because they will “appeal to guests” is way too high. Yeah, timeshares appeal to guests and make money. McMansions also appeal to the general public. So do malls. However, these things lack the creative capital and ambition found in so much of what was built at Walt Disney World from the time it opened until the mid-1990s. These are the things that made Walt Disney World a special place. Timeshares, McMansions, and malls do not make Walt Disney World a special place (and we say that as DVC members who happen to like the club). In those days, Disney built things that guests hadn’t seen before but would come to love, not things that were safe bets because they are ordinarily profitable for those who build them. I’ve heard Wal-Mart is also a pretty lucrative business…perhaps Walt Disney World should invite one to be built on property?

Regardless of what gets built, it will be better than what’s there now. But is that enough? Shouldn’t the bar be a little higher than set so low that you trip over it no matter what? Here’s hoping Disney is ambitious with Disney Springs, and brings in several unique concepts designed in-house to sit alongside the third party retailers. I’d love nothing more than for this redevelopment to be so good that it makes me forget all about Pleasure Island.

Your Reaction…

What do you think of the Disney Springs concept? Excited to see Downtown Disney potentially receiving a makeover, or indifferent to the expansion? Share your thoughts in the comments.

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24 Responses to “Disney Springs Announced for Downtown Disney”

  1. James N says:

    I agree. If they put enough unique experiences and things to do in Disney Springs it will be a hit. If they refurbish a bunch of exteriors and add more shops it’s not that big of a draw. Downtown Disney needs some work and hopefully this is it.

  2. Mitch says:

    I get why they are doing what they are doing with the whole disney springs idea, but I don’t go to WDW to shop in a mall. If disney creates it’s own unique restaraunts and stores along with really unique and beautiful theming then I am all for it. If it’s a Trojan horse to bring a coach store and a footlocker then I’ll be disappointed to say the least.

    I get that South American your groups come to disney to basically buy stuff to resell in brazil. Disney, for the love of all that is good, don’t let that be your motivation for building out more shopping at disney springs.

    • Cia says:

      But the thing is that Downtown Disney is accessible to people visiting Florida who might not be going to Disney. Or, in the case of myself and my fiance, Downtown Disney is a distraction. We are flying down late Sunday the day after our wedding spending the evening hanging out in Downtown Disney and staying at a value resort. Then the next morning we’ll have the value resort send our bags to the polynesian and go into the parks.

  3. David Cohen says:

    Been a while since I commented here, but your articles have pulled be back lately, and this one is particularly comment-worthy. The news about Disney Spring, and especially its reference to “turn-of-the-century Florida” is exciting to me. In Disney terms, it kind of feels like it will be somewhere in between the Grand Floridian style, Port Orleans Riverside, and a bit of the Italian Riviera (not all of those are Florida specifically, but I think you get the point). The idea of a bustling waterfront area with dining, music, and bars would be a welcome addition. Having all those things nail the Disney magic (a la Trader Sam’s) would be freaking fantastic, and something to be genuinely excited about.

    But then again I’m an optimist. And if Disney can actually deliver on these plans, this could be something to get very excited about.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Good to see you back here. If the concept is built exactly as you describe it, I think it’ll be great. However, I’m a little weary at this point.

  4. maarch says:

    Like you said, anything would be better than the current form of Downtown Disney. I still visit it when I go to the park, but I don’t think anybody actually plan a day or anything to go there.

    For us, it’s more of a ” all park are close, what can we do now ” activity.

    I like the fact it’ll be bigger, I love the new design and the “vibe” they are going for. I get that in the US ( specially in the southern part ), those type of mall concept are more common s things, but for international travelers like us ( Canada ) it’s something we enjoy to go shop in store we don’t have here, in a concept that would be impossible in the cold north weather.

    All in all, anything more for Downtown would be a great add on. I think the whole ” land ” thing will work out. And who know they may actually bring back some restaurant with some nighlife into it ( maybe not a club, but some musics, drinks, etc.. would be great ).

    New FantasyLand, Fastpass+, Disney Springs, Avatar Land. They are certainly trying hard to improve the park in many different way.

    • maarch says:

      Forgot to say, that I also belieive they will at least improve on some of their current stores concepts they have and probably create a couples of new one.

      But yeah, let’s admit it there will be some traditional store found around the US, that’s a given. Hopefully, they force those stores to create an experience (like m&m store in timesquare, or the Hersey Store, etc. ). Not just a generic version, but that they do something to improve on them and be a unique version of those concepts.

      • Tom Bricker says:

        Tom Staggs said that the majority would be third party stores. Based on the leaked list of stores, I’d say the vast majority will be third parties. Most likely, the 75 new stores will be comparable to the lineup of a high end mall, but with 2-3 Disney concepts mixed in.

  5. Annie says:

    This has the potential to be really dangerous for me. I’ve been known to have a few Rum Runners at the Margarita Bar and then do bad things with my credit card. Just look for the crazy lady covered in pins, clutching a pretzel dog and softly humming the Cha Cha Slide.

  6. Bekah says:

    Well, Downtown Disney FOR SURE needs to do SOMETHING. I guess only time will tell.

  7. Pamela says:

    That’s not what brazilian tourists do at all! Most of us, myself included, really like to shop in Orlando simply because it’s way cheaper then in Brazil. But we buy stuff for ourselves, not to resell. The priority is and always will be visiting the parks and enjoying things on property. Shopping is just a great bonus. I hope too that Disney Springs is much more than just a mall and be more of a Disney experience kind of place.

  8. Chris says:

    Wal-Mart in Disney? Don’t give them too many ideas. Disney is one of Wal-Mart’s biggest vendors. :(

  9. Sharon says:

    I like going to Downtown Disney to visit Fultons Crab House, grab a treat at Ghiradelli, and visit a few of the shops. I havent bothered to venture past “Characters in Flight” in a few years. I like going a few times during my yearly “Food and Wine Festival” trip to relax from the hectic crowds at the parks. Although it may be pretty from the sketches, I dont think I will find myself spending lots of time shopping for things that I can get at home, I like what is unique about it. Start putting Starbucks and other chains in there and you will lose my excitement. I will be sad if they change the name : (

  10. dr. john says:

    i hope this includes the long anticipated “captain jack’s” refurb!!

  11. Chronic Gin Deficiency says:

    In the words of that sage Yogi Berra, “I’ll believe it when I believe it.”

    This is a huge capital outlay. The site work and parking garage(s) alone will near $200 million. Florida, including Orlando, has a glut of “high end” (cough) retail space. I know WDW is a unique draw, but Disney will need a pretty horrific rent premium to get a return in a resonable time frame.

    It’s not just capital. Moving to parking structures means higher operating expenses for lighting, security, liability insurance. The kinds of things which have made Disney run for the hills for the last, oh, 20 years or so.

    There’s one possibility which just now occured to me: maybe Disney will just be a ground landlord. Maybe the’ll find some sucker third-party for design/build/operate. Then again, I don’t think candidates like Simon or Rousse would be in any kind financial position where they could take on this.

    My guess is we’ll get some vastly stripped down version of this, with a light re-theming, a centralized bus loading area, mildly improved internal roads, and a little more surface parking. I doubt Disney’s getting out of the “turd in a can” business any time soon.

  12. Rich K. says:

    MORE PARKING!!

  13. Erin Elizabeth says:

    This is exciting news! I’d love to see some innovations:
    1) Drop in child care very similar to that which is available on the Disney Cruise line. Give parents a chance to eat at a nice restaurant and reconnect over drinks.
    2) Interactive experiences such as water shows (think Shops at Caesers in Atlantic City) and live performers
    3) A cooking school for fun 3 hour classes, an animation studio with the option to tour, or a place to make unique souveniers
    4) Affordable (or at least relatively affordable),shopping opportunity { I completely agree though, this should not be a mall or anything similar}
    Just throwing some ideas out there. I’d love to see DTD/Disney Springs become an exciting addition to the parks!!!

  14. Cia says:

    I hope that there are good parts of it still open and available to visit in May 2014. My fiance and I plan to honeymoon in Disney and since no flights leave for Florida early enough for us to be there by park open we planned on spending the first evening in Downtown Disney, then beginning our honeymoon vacation package the next day. Hoping we won’t be left with nothing to do =/

  15. Mi Mi says:

    Totally agree! Nothing detracts from delightful Disney experiences and wonderful design as much as the “real world” brashness of 3rd party vendors. They don’t use the uplifting approach Disney has perfected. Disney properties, hotels, parks, music, & merchandise just have the right tone that universally brings joy. Maybe Disney designers could advise outside vendors so they, too, could display a touch of the magic!
    That would help these types of projects succeed.

    • Tom Bricker says:

      Absolutely. Unique designs more fitting of Disney would really help make this less of a “mall” and more of a unique Disney experience. Sort of like the McDonald’s near the All Stars before it was redesigned to look like an ordinary McDonald’s.

  16. Ally Stroup says:

    I was wondering Is the Rain Forest Cafe and Dinosure Restrunt still going to open? What about the AMC Movie Theater there? And some of the disney shops there are people still be able to eat shop and go see a movie while its under consrution,That’s my concern.

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