All construction has stopped at Disney World according to the head of the region’s top construction trade organization (via Orlando Business Journal). In this post, we’ll cover details of the shutdown, plus speculation about how specific projects will be impacted.
In our past posts about Walt Disney World closing, many readers have wondered whether the shutdown of the parks means that construction and refurbishments can be accelerated without guests in the way. It’s not a totally outlandish idea in theory–some work done primarily overnight could be done out in the open during daytime hours.
This has actually been such a common question that we specifically addressed both fixing the Expedition Everest Yeti and Star Wars: Rise of the Resistance reliability in our Walt Disney World Closure FAQ. Our answer to both: don’t count on it. Now, we have confirmation of that…
In a statement to the Orlando Business Journal, Mark Wylie, president and CEO of the Central Florida chapter of Associated Builders & Contractors Inc. indicated that all construction projects have been halted at Walt Disney World. It wasn’t known if construction workers will be paid or when construction operations will resume in the parks.
Construction has been booming in Central Florida, but Wylie expects other construction sites in the region to shut down, as well. “They’re going to be closing a lot of construction sites,” Wylie said of the Central Florida region. “It’s already having a terrific impact on the economy.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is now deferring to the President’s Guidelines for America — 15 Days to Slow the Spread, which recommends events of 10 or more people be canceled or postponed. It’s not immediately clear if this is the impetus for Walt Disney World shutting down construction sites, or if it’s a matter of cutting costs with the parks closed and a looming recession. (Or both.)
In our area near Walt Disney World, residential construction has continued on new homes and expanding roadways (as I type this, I can literally hear the work outside). It remains to be seen whether this will continue–both in light of the new recommendations/restrictions and due to an anticipated fall in demand. Sadly, it’s already getting tough out there for a lot of people.
No matter how quickly the situation is resolved, there’s likely to be fallout in the tourism sector that extends beyond the end of this year. In the long-term, Walt Disney World will be fine, but the short to mid-term ramifications could be significant. (The perception of WDW as overpriced, which people laughed off with #BROKE or Most Expensive Day Ever shirts, could be difficult to overcome.)
In the days before the parks closed, entertainment cutbacks began occurring. That’s likely just the beginning. We’ve previously touched upon the possibility that Walt Disney World would adjust timelines, scale back projects, or halt them indefinitely depending upon how long the parks are closed and the economic fallout of the pandemic.
This would not be unprecedented. Disney’s Pop Century: The Legendary Years is the most notable recent example, which is the second-phase of a resort announced at the beginning of the new millennium. During its construction, 9/11 happened and tourism to Florida plummeted.
The first phase of Pop Century (obviously) eventually opened, but it was delayed over a year. Across Hourglass Lake and Generation Gap Bridge, the half-finished “abandoned” resort was plainly visible, and sat that way for nearly a decade. Above is a photo I captured about a decade ago (pardon the old-timey film processing…I was going through a phase.)
That’s when Walt Disney World announced Art of Animation Resort, which used the existing lobby and motel-style buildings that had already been constructed. (If you ever wondered why the Little Mermaid rooms are so different, now you have your answer.)
Here are the projects we anticipate are most likely to be impacted this time around…
Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge – This has yet to go vertical, meaning it’s not even as far along as the Legendary Years was when that project hit the pause button for nearly a decade. In my view, Reflections Lodge is the project most likely to be outright cancelled or at least postponed indefinitely. At minimum, I’d be surprised if Reflections – A Disney Lakeside Lodge opens before 2023.
Disney Vacation Club already has a lot of unsold points, and a recession would make those more difficult to sell. On top of that, there’s a strong possibility that foreclosures will outpace new sales, meaning that DVC’s point inventory will start increasing. On top of that, there’s the possibility that they will need to exercise right of first refusal to buoy resale values.
Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser Resort – This project is much further along, with exterior construction nearly complete. We anticipate this hotel opening more or less as planned, but perhaps with a modified scale. There are several big questions here. How much of an investment has already been made in terms of research and development? How much capex remains to be spent? What will the operational costs/profit margin be for the existing concept?
All of these are relevant considerations in judging whether Star Wars Galactic Starcruiser Resort retains its current scope and ambition. If most of the money has already been spent and operational costs aren’t prohibitive, there’s no reason to adjust plans. If lowering nightly rates would kill margins, don’t be surprised if cuts are made.
Epcot Festival Center – The architectural centerpiece of the core redesign of Epcot is the unnamed festival center. Innoventions is pretty much fully demolished and the central spine of Epcot is a mess, so this project will proceed in some form.
Moreover, the festival center is (presumably) going to directly generate revenue. Food and alcohol will be sold inside, and it’s safe to assume some sort of rooftop dessert party will be offered. Cutting the multi-story project entirely thus seems unlikely. Making it less architecturally ambitious does not.
Spaceship Earth Reimagining – The bold move here would be to plow forward with this reimagining as scheduled, even if it means the last guests have already experienced this incarnation of the attraction. Attendance is likely to drop in the near-term even once the parks reopen, so now is the perfect time to get as much done as possible at Epcot with lighter crowds.
The easier route is to release a statement beginning with the words, “due to guest demand…” and indicating the project has been postponed so guests who had trips cancelled or postponed can say their goodbyes. Our money is on the latter, but we’re hopeful for the former.
Play Pavilion – There has been speculation that the Play Pavilion, which has an official opening of “in time for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary,” could open late this year if park attendance and lack of other things to do in Epcot necessitates it. The emphasis here is on speculation–virtually no rumors have leaked about the actual progress on this pavilion.
This likely pushes the opening of the Play Pavilion back, closer to the official start of Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary. That’s both due to the construction delays that’ll occur due to this stoppage, and the lack of demand/need.
That’s more or less with where other projects like Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure, Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, Tron Lightcycle Run, Harmonious, Space 220 Restaurant, and other additions stand.
They’ll be impacted to the extent that construction is not actively occurring, but there’s not even a remote danger of those projects being shelved. They’re simply too far along and Walt Disney World will need splashy additions to entice guests to visit post-recession.
Beyond what we’ve listed here, the biggest impacts will likely occur to expansion plans that have not yet been announced or commenced work. Expect pretty much all of that to be shelved, at least in the near to mid-term. Don’t be surprised in the next D23 Expo is very light on announcements, and mostly reveals new details about existing projects.
There is a silver lining, as all of this likely means a return to aggressive discounting. Some readers have feared that Walt Disney World will continue to raise prices to compensate for the parks being closed. That’s not how this works. As always, Disney charges what the market will bear…and when the parks reopen, Walt Disney World will simply not bear its previous pricing. On another positive note, Disney could use entertainment as a less expensive way to lure guests back to Walt Disney World. It’s obviously way too early to say, but this could mean new fireworks, parades–maybe even a night parade–for Walt Disney World’s 50th Anniversary…
Do you anticipate a long-term impact on projects around Walt Disney World? Anything you expect to be outright cancelled or postponed indefinitely? Things you do not expect to be impacted? Do you agree or disagree with our assessment? Any questions we can help you answer? Hearing your feedback—even when you disagree with us—is both interesting to us and helpful to other readers, so please share your thoughts below in the comments!