Storyliving by Disney Residential Communities

Following their foray into real estate with Celebration, Florida and houses in Golden Oak at Walt Disney World, the company has launched a new business to develop residential communities. Storyliving by Disney will feature distinctively designed spaces, unique amenities, and world-renowned service for those “looking to write the next chapter of their lives with Disney.”

The first community in the Storyliving by Disney project will be developed in Rancho Mirage, California; additional United States locations are under exploration. And no, this isn’t an early April Fools’ Day joke–it’s an actual announcement. This is a real press release from Disney (to our knowledge), followed by our commentary. Let’s start with official details…

As more and more fans look for new ways to make Disney a bigger part of their lives, the company today announced plans to introduce Storyliving by Disney, vibrant new neighborhoods that are infused with the company’s special brand of magic. These master-planned communities are intended to inspire residents to foster new friendships, pursue their interests and write the next exciting chapter in their lives—all while enjoying the attention to detail, unique amenities and special touches that are Disney hallmarks.

The first Storyliving by Disney community will be built in California’s Coachella Valley—a location where Walt Disney himself owned a home and would spend leisure time with his family. Cotino, a Storyliving by Disney community, will be built in the heart of the Coachella Valley in Rancho Mirage, California.

The mountain-ringed valley in the Greater Palm Spring area was once a rejuvenating retreat for Walt and Lillian Disney. Architecture and amenities of this Storyliving by Disney community will reflect the history and present-day inspiration of the rich valley culture.

Cotino is being developed in collaboration with DMB Development, which is highly regarded for its development of large-scale planned communities in the United States. According to Brent Herrington, the company’s CEO, “Cotino represents the creativity and operational excellence of Disney combined with the extensive community development expertise of DMB Development. We are delighted to collaborate with Disney in this groundbreaking new concept.”

Cotino will welcome homeowners of all ages and will include at least one section expressly for 55+ residents. Home buyers will have a range of home types to choose from, including estates, single family homes and condominiums.

The community is expected to surround an approximately 24-acre grand oasis featuring clear turquoise waters with Crystal Lagoons technology, enabling crystalline lagoons of any size to be built sustainably, with low water consumption and using a minimum amount of additives and energy. A voluntary club membership will offer access to a waterfront clubhouse, a club-only beach area and recreational water activities, as well as Disney programming, entertainment and activities throughout the year.​

Cotino also has Specific Plan approval for a vibrant mixed-use district featuring a range of shopping, dining and entertainment, a beachfront hotel, and a professionally managed beach park with recreational water activities that can be accessed by the public through the purchase of a day pass.

“For nearly 100 years, Disney has shared stories that have touched the hearts and minds of people all around the world,” said Josh D’Amaro, chairman, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products. “As we prepare to enter our second century, we are developing new and exciting ways to bring the magic of Disney to people wherever they are, expanding storytelling to storyliving. We can’t wait to welcome residents to these beautiful and unique Disney communities where they can live their lives to the fullest.”

At each location, including some neighborhoods for residents ages 55+, Disney Cast Members trained in the company’s legendary guest service will operate the community association. Through a club membership, Disney will also provide access to curated experiences, such as wellness programming; entertainment ranging from live performances to cooking classes; philanthropic endeavors; seminars and much more.

Disney Imagineers will play a key role in developing the creative concept for the communities, working in conjunction with respected developers and homebuilders.

“Disney Imagineers are exploring the richness of each local region to inspire the theme of Storyliving by Disney communities,” said Michael Hundgen, executive producer, Walt Disney Imagineering. “Distinctively designed indoor and outdoor spaces will offer residents new opportunities to explore, engage and create the next incredible chapter of their story.”

Check out the above video to learn more about the proposed plans for Cotino, a Storyliving by Disney community.

The Walt Disney Company will be working with highly respected real estate developers and experienced home builders at each site, who will contribute their talents and expertise to each community.

This material contains general information about future proposed community plans which are subject to change or cancellation at any time without notice.  Club membership, programming, and access and use of future proposed amenities and offerings, will require the payment of dues and/or fees and be subject to additional terms and conditions, which will be set by the owner of the club. Availability of club membership and operation of club facilities are not guaranteed.

Disney is not the developer of Cotino, a Storyliving by Disney community or the builder or seller of homes within Storyliving by Disney communities. The parties developing, and building homes in, Storyliving by Disney communities are independently owned and operated. This does not constitute an offer to sell, or a solicitation to buy, real estate to residents of any state or jurisdiction where prohibited by law, or where prior registration is required, but has not yet been fulfilled.  Equal Housing Opportunity. Broker participation welcome.  For additional information and updates, visit www.storylivingbydisney.com.

Our Commentary

There are a few red flags about Storyliving by Disney, starting with the reality that the company’s track record with planned communities isn’t exactly sterling. I’ll preface this by saying that Celebration, Florida is a charming little town with a ton of personality, interesting architecture, and inviting public spaces.

Celebration has character, especially as compared to the bland and boring housing developments that have popped up throughout Central Florida in the decades since. The claims of Celebration being dystopian or having unsettling Pleasantville vibes are overblown. If you ever have the time and want to venture off-site during your Walt Disney World vacation, we’d highly recommend visiting Celebration.

Visit is the operative word. Buying real estate in Celebration is another story entirely. Celebration’s problems are well-documented, and make it a non-starter as an actual, livable community (Celebration, Florida: How Disney’s ‘Community of Tomorrow’ Became a Total Nightmare is a really fascinating read). When it comes to a place to live, we would (and did) choose one of the boring and bland housing developments elsewhere near Walt Disney World over Celebration.

Now, you might point to Golden Oak at Walt Disney World as a counterpoint to Celebration’s shortcomings. That’s fair. If I were writing this article back in 2010, coming out of the Great Financial Crisis, I probably would’ve been highly skeptical of that endeavor. Disney dabbling in a real estate development of multi-million dollar homes–with the scars of the housing bubble still fresh–resulted in fierce criticism at the time. That undoubtedly would’ve included the commentary on this blog were it around back then.

However, early buyers at Golden Oak have had their purchases vindicated, as home values have skyrocketed since. If anything, Disney could be critiqued there for not waiting a little longer to give the housing market more time to recover. But it’s easy to second-guess that move with the benefit of hindsight. I don’t think many people saw the Central Florida real estate market exploding the way it has, or Walt Disney World’s growth in the decade-plus since.

The difference here is one of location. Golden Oak is on-site at Walt Disney World, and is space-constrained. Once those parcels near Magic Kingdom are fully-developed, that’s it. Adherents to the first three rules of real estate would recognize that Golden Oak has a lot going for it on that basis alone. Crazy as it might’ve sounded at one point, those multi-million dollar homes are likely a sound long-term investment.

By contrast, Cotino, a Storyliving by Disney is in the Coachella Valley, just outside of Palm Springs. Don’t get us wrong, this is a wonderful area with stunning natural scenery and beautiful, mid-century modern architecture. It’s easy to see why Walt Disney and so many of his contemporaries fell in love with Palm Springs. The city is a great place to live…for a few months per year.

We’ve been to Palm Springs in the summer, and it’s miserable. We’re not talking the kind of heat and humidity at Walt Disney World about which we bellyache. More like temperatures over 100 degrees by 9 am; in this case, it being a “dry heat” doesn’t really make a difference. It’s also affordable to visit Palm Springs in the summer–you can book luxury resorts or homes that are architectural exemplars for inexpensive prices. Because no one else wants to. (If you take nothing else from this post, heed our warning of visiting Palm Springs in the summer before buying in Cotino.)

If this Storyliving by Disney community were in Newport Beach or Pasadena, I could see it having appeal from a “location” perspective. However, there’s no shortage of land parcels in the desert between Riverside and Phoenix. (There’s also an environmental case to be made that they shouldn’t be developed, but that’s beyond the scope of this post.) The appeal of Palm Springs comes from the homes that are already there–and have been for decades. A new cookie-cutter community doesn’t have the one thing that makes Palm Springs a cool place to live.

Beyond that, there’s no logical nexus between Coachella Valley and Disney, beyond the contrived “Walt connection.” Let’s just be glad they didn’t invoke Progress City or Walt’s original vision for E.P.C.O.T. That would’ve really strained credulity, so hopefully the company doesn’t go there in future promo materials.

Rancho Mirage is a couple of hours away from Disneyland (double that if traffic is bad), whereas Golden Oak and Celebration are both minutes from the Florida parks. Cotino will be a good option for the Disney diehards who are also big Joshua Tree National Park enthusiasts (all 7 of us!), though.

It’s also worthwhile to question the trajectory of the real estate market as a whole. Right now, it’s scorching. Supply is constrained, older generations are aging in place, and Millennials are entering their prime home-buying years. Through at least 2024, there’s an unprecedented patch of favorable demographics that will likely push prices higher until rising interest rates start pumping the brakes on that.

But today’s housing market isn’t the one into which Cotino will be sold. This project is likely a few years away, coming online after those prime demographics and as America’s aging population starts to need less housing. It’s impossible to predict how all of that will play out–many actual experts smarter than me have been wrong about the housing market in the last decade. Nevertheless, I wouldn’t want to be the one paying record land, labor, lumber, and other raw materials prices to develop and build today for tomorrow’s market.

In fairness, it’s likely Disney doesn’t have financial exposure, as the company is not developing, building, or selling the homes in Cotino. The press release even distances Disney from the project to a degree, including lines about and quotes from the CEO of the actual developer. There’s a decent chance Disney has minimal actual involvement and exposure beyond licensing the brand name and Imagineering doing concept art.

It wouldn’t surprise me in the least if the plan is to market this one way to Disney fans, and another entirely to non-fans. It also seems like it would be pretty easy to strip away the Disney window-dressing if there’s not a lot of fan-demand for Cotino or Storyliving by Disney.

Finally, there’s the question of what the Walt Disney Company really brings to the table when it comes to residential design and community planning. Don’t get me wrong, I love many of the newer additions to the parks. At least, the ambitious ones with healthy budgets and Imagineering’s top tier talent behind them.

Then there’s Disney Springs and virtually every retail and dining location of the last few years, which probably offer the better comparison than Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. So much of Imagineering’s favored design style can best be described as “rustic hipsters move into an old barn and find some eclectic decor on clearance at Anthropologie.” It’s everywhere and it’s awful. Is that Disney’s plan? To design a generic “Old Towne” that is already passé and will be well out of style by whatever year this actually debuts?

Judging by the concept art, that won’t be the style. The question stands: what unique expertise does Disney bring to the table with regard to residential real estate or community planning? What does Imagineering offer that hasn’t already been perfected in California? Say what you will about the state–and we know many of you are not fans–but California has some of the most interesting architecture in the United States.

Mid-century Modern. California Craftsman. Googie. Mission Revival. Eastlake Victorian. Chateauesque. Storybook. Streamline Moderne. Art Deco. Bungalow Courts. Spanish Colonial Revival. Spanish-Moorish. Churrigueresque. Beaux-Arts. Hollywood Regency. Postmodern. These are all signature styles found throughout California.

California offers a ton of unique homes and communities. Celebration would not be a town worth visiting if it existed in Southern California rather than Central Florida, because it would be comparatively much less interesting than other SoCal communities.

This isn’t to say there’s not cookie-cutter housing in California–there’s a ton of it–but there’s also a lot of engaging architecture. On the ordinary front, it’s difficult to imagine Disney doing a better job than the Irvine Company or being more competitively priced. For the premium pricing that Disney will undoubtedly charge, a homebuyer could purchase something that’s actually ambitious.

Ultimately, it’s difficult to see the appeal of Storyliving by Disney’s first community. Those who want the experience of Walt Disney’s Palm Springs should buy an existing home…that’s actually in Palm Springs. Those who want something “Disney” and don’t mind a hot and miserable place to live for several months per year have better options in Celebration or even Golden Oak. (Given California’s real estate market, Cotino’s home prices will skew towards the Golden Oak end of that spectrum. It’s unstated in the promo materials, but these will be multi-million dollar homes by virtue of their location and nature of the development.)

This just seems like a questionable move, aimed at an audience that is obsessed with Disney. Prospective buyers will have to overlook these issues or superior alternatives and not question much, instead having unwavering “faith, trust, and pixie dust.” I really hope such an audience doesn’t exist at scale. That’s just my incredibly pessimistic take, and as noted above, I would’ve been wrong about Golden Oak. Hopefully (?), the same will be true for Storyliving by Disney.

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Your Thoughts

What do you think of the Storyliving by Disney concept? Would you buy a home in Cotino or any of these planned communities? Think this will be a big hit, colossal flop, or something in between? Any questions? We love hearing from readers, so please share any other thoughts or questions you have in the comments below!

43 Responses to “Storyliving by Disney Residential Communities”
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