Disneyland Resort Eastern Gateway Expansion

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Ahead of Star Wars Land and other expansion, Disneyland Resort has filed documents with Anaheim for its Eastern Gateway project, which is the largest infrastructure project in Anaheim’s Resort District in 20 years, and will include a new parking structure with 6,800 spaces, a new transportation hub, security point, and an elevated pedestrian bridge.

The new transportation facility will be the drop-off location for buses, taxis, shuttles, replacing the location that is currently east of the Esplanade. The new pedestrian pathway and elevated bridge over Harbor Boulevard will connect that huge parking structure and transportation hub with the Esplanade. The pedestrian pathway and bridge will be constructed on the current site of Carousel Inn & Suites, which Disney purchased last year. No word yet on whether our beloved Pizza Press is safe, but we assume so.

As you can see from diagrams of the Eastern Gateway project (below), security screening will occur before the pedestrian bridge that connects to the Esplanade, with the pedestrian portal for access to the Eastern Gateway now being behind the Grand Legacy at the Park hotel along Disney Way. (UPDATE: The HoJo is reporting that there will also be regular pedestrian access via Harbor; if true, the 5-minute walk hotels won’t be cut off, as the commentary that follows suggests.)

You can glean the rest of the nitty-gritty from the plans below, but now I’ll turn to my reaction. (I know what you’re thinking: a reaction to a parking structure?! But bear with me…)

My Reaction

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In general, I’m in favor of this plan. Before I get to the why of that, I want to discuss how this will impact hotels in the area, something I find interesting as it raises some questions. Hotels that were once directly across the street, such as Anaheim Desert Inn and Park Vue Inn (two of our favorites) appear to have jumped from a 5 minute walk to a 20+ minute walk to the parks. The main question: is this okay?

You might think, “who cares, that’s not Disney’s problem.” Actually, it’s not as simple as that. The Anaheim Resort District and Disneyland Resort were master-planned with specific conditions. In exchange for concessions from Anaheim, Disneyland Resort has certain obligations to its neighbors. If you’re so inclined, you can read about this in excruciating detail in the Disneyland Resort Specific Plan No. 92-1 (“DRSP”).

One caveat before we get started: I have not read the DRSP in its entirety. It’s hundreds of pages long, and I simply don’t have that level of interest. I did spend a couple of hours reviewing it, focusing on sections that I assumed would be more likely to contain pertinent provisions. My analysis is predicated upon, and limited to, my interpretation of those sections. With that said, there very well could be additional language that supplements or contradicts what’s addressed below and my interpretations thereof. This following commentary is presented for entertainment purposes only, and should not be relied upon or construed otherwise yada yada yada…

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The DRSP was adopted in 1993 (with subsequent amendments), and is an interesting look at what was planned versus what came to fruition. For historical context, this plan was drafted at a time when the second gate was to be WESTCOT (the preliminary, paper version of the report actually contains WESTCOT concept art!), and PeopleMovers were planned to transport guests from the parking structures to the Esplanade. Suffice to say, not everything detailed in the DRSP ended up becoming reality–but that doesn’t mean its core requirements don’t still apply.

Rather than focusing on interesting elements of the DRSP, let’s talk infrastructure! Namely, the same Eastern Gateway that is being developed between now and 2018. The Eastern Gateway is addressed throughout the DRSP, with its succinct purpose and future plans (including this bridge) discussed here at 5.6.4. This section does not provide the specifics for facilitating pedestrian access into the Eastern Gateway, but it does state that one or two structures may be built to carry people from the east side of Harbor Blvd. to the parks, with such structures being “a pedestrian and/or transportation system(s) overpass. These may also be combined into a single structure.”

Disney is proposing the pedestrian overpass portion of that, along with other parking and drop-off components. The security checkpoints, single pedestrian portal, and some other elements aren’t contemplated by the DRSP. Presumably, that’s because times have changed since 1993. (It’s actually a bit surprising that so much of the current plans follow this master plan from 1993–just look at the below graphic from then.)

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Then there’s how the DRSP is actually codified into the Chapter 18 of the Anaheim Municipal Code. One of the requirements that sticks out to me is found at 18.114.050.060, which includes the following requirement: “Adequate provision shall be made for the safe and orderly circulation of both pedestrian and vehicular traffic between the proposed site and all streets and highways and between coordinated facilities, accessways or parking areas on adjacent sites. The proposed development shall not limit or adversely affect the growth and development potential of adjoining lands or the general area in which it is proposed to be located.”

That last sentence is potentially key, and sufficiently vague to allow multiple interpretations. Whether restricting access to a single pedestrian portal is reasonable in light of the above provision probably depends upon whether you’re Disney or the hotels along Harbor. I’ll let you draw your own conclusions as to whether Disney’s current proposal violates that provision. I will say that, generally, the DRSP grants Disney broad discretion in developing the Eastern Gateway, and Disney’s plan does not surprise me. I expect the proposal will be approved in substantially the same form as submitted…after a bit of a fight.

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I’m really glad that the Eastern Gateway project is finally being built. It has been rumored for some time, and is desperately needed. Infrastructure obviously is not as “sexy” of an investment as attractions, but if you’ve ever driven to Disneyland on a busy day, you know that the parking situation is disjointed–and that’s putting it charitably.

Disneyland estimates that 70% of its guests arrive via I-5, and I’d guess that a little under half of those are taking I-5 north (with the rest coming southbound from Los Angeles) so this ramp will be convenient for that segment of Disneyland visitors. As someone who drives northbound on I-5 to access Disneyland, I suspect that the Eastern Gateway and its new ramp will shave ~10 minutes off my commute time to the parks.

Then there are regular tourists who stay at nearby off-site hotels and walk to the parks. While the hotels right across the street just became less convenient, big winners are the two AAA four-diamond hotels presently in development: the J.W. Marriott at GardenWalk and Wincome Group’s project on the current site of Anaheim Plaza Inn & Suites (the first hotel at which we stayed in Anaheim–good riddance!).

Other hotels in the GardenWalk or Disney Way vicinity would likely benefit marginally. Aside from the hotels directly across the street, most third party hotels would see minimal impact, particularly those closer to Katella.

The other big winner is, of course, Disney. No longer will cheap off-site hotels be a shorter walk to the parks than Disneyland Hotel. Not that Disneyland has any issues with occupancy (to the contrary–the area could probably sustain 3 Disney hotels beyond the new AAA four-diamond one opening in 2021), but still. Additionally, this new parking structure will relieve strain from other flat lots, which Disney can (presumably) work towards developing into hotels.

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The biggest winner by far, though, is the unsuspecting prey–I mean patrons–of Captain Kidd’s Buffet, a 1.5-star establishment on Yelp. With at least 75% of its demographic consisting of “lazy tourists duped into eating here due to proximity” it wouldn’t be surprising to see Captain Kidd’s go out of business. In which case, you’ll have to find somewhere else if you were looking for a guaranteed case of food poisoning.

Joking aside, easing guests into and out of the theme park experience with an environment that Disney can better control is a positive, in my view. To be sure, there’s nothing “magical” about the Mickey & Friends parking structure, but arriving from I-5 to that, then walking along a nicely manicured path through Downtown Disney (or taking the tram) provides a gentle transition into the Disney experience. It is a significantly more pleasant start than walking down Harbor past stores hawking discount tours, unlicensed t-shirts, and other such establishments.

To be sure, Anaheim has transformed dramatically in even just the last 5 years, and many of the hotels along Harbor have improved significantly with it (Anaheim’s revitalization extends far beyond Disneyland). Irrespective of that, the Harbor Boulevard entrance is the worst “approach” to any Disney theme park worldwide. Controlling the guest experience from the point of parking until the point of departure presents an opportunity for Disney.

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I really hope Disney avails itself of this, creating a lush path with planters and other nice little touches. Disney has done a great job in both Hong Kong and Shanghai with making its public spaces open and inviting, and I hope those same principles are applied in California. The Eastern Gateway doesn’t need to be some grandiose spectacle of theming–it just needs to be an inviting precursor of what’s to come.

On that note, a lot of attention has been directed at the moving walkways–or lack thereof. Personally, I could not care less. I walk from Mickey & Friends as opposed to taking the tram, and this most definitely will be a shorter walk. I also think it’s odd to take issue with walking 1,000 feet (I see many people use a .5 mile number–but that includes portions of the walk that already exist and do not feature moving walkway; the new pedestrian connector is <1,000 feet) when you’re going to be walking 5-10 miles in the parks.

However, from the perspective of the absence of moving walkways being predicative of Disney skimping on details (the master plan called for a PeopleMover and moving walkways) or effort because infrastructure isn’t sexy, I can understand the concern. No, a parking structure and walkways can’t be marketed, but it will shape guest experiences and attitudes, and will make a first (and final) impression for many guests. Its significance should not be taken for granted.

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(Special thanks to Guy Selga for the WESTCOT concept art. All other designs and graphics © Disney.)

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Your Thoughts

Do you agree or disagree with my take on the Eastern Gateway? What do you think of cutting off direct access to the Esplanade? Excited for the future of Disneyland Resort? Share any questions, tips, or additional thoughts you have in the comments!


26 Responses to “Disneyland Resort Eastern Gateway Expansion”
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