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What's the story behind Disney Springs, and why does it matter?

Robert Niles

By Robert Niles
Published: August 19, 2014 at 5:04 PM

Walt Disney Imagineering is doing its part to promote Disney Springs with a "behind the scenes" video where Walt Disney Imagineering Executive Creative Director Theron Skees talks about the story behind the new version of Walt Disney World's Downtown Disney shopping and dining area.

The TL;DW? Disney Springs is a town in Florida, and now it's gentrified. "What if there were a beautiful natural springs in Florida that a whole town was built on, and, over time, that town was converted into a retail, dining and entertainment venue?" Skees said in the video.

Disney Springs model
A scale model of Disney Springs, on display at the 2013 D23 Expo

Disney Springs is supposed to thematically unify the three areas of the now-Downtown Disney: The Marketplace, Pleasure Island, and the West Side. But this isn't Disney's first attempt to create a theme for this area.

Who remembers Merriweather Pleasure? Okay, put your hands down — we're all geeks here. Let's rephrase: What percentage of Walt Disney World Resort guests over the past 25 years ever realized that there was a backstory to Pleasure Island and that it involved a guy named Merriweather Pleasure?

If anyone recognized "Pleasure Island" from Disney canon, they likely thought it was that place where Pinocchio and his buddies got turned into donkeys after a night of booze, cigars and fighting. Disney tried to retcon the name with the Merriweather Pleasure stuff, but the negative association with the more well-known Pinocchio reference never helped. Not that many people cared — Pleasure Island lived and died by the quality and selection of its clubs. (And this is where we pour one out for the Adventurers' Club.)

Which is a long way of getting to the point that, ultimately, the backstory of Disney Springs doesn't matter as much as Disney's ability to create a coherent design for the entire area that helps make it a place people want to visit. Downtown Disney suffers from parking and capacity problems exacerbated by its design and placement within the Walt Disney World Resort. Ideally, Disney Springs will transforms this area into a more welcoming public space that can accommodate not just a better variety of shops and restaurants that people want to visit, but also the physical demands of those crowds.

New parking, access roads and other infrastructure improvements provide a foundation for the Disney Springs project. If creating a backstory for the place (as slight as this one appears to be, from the video) allows Disney's Imagineers to designate a specific visual style for the area, that can help in creating a more appealing and welcoming design on top of all that new infrastructure. The idea is to make people more likely to look forward to a visit to Disney Springs than they have to a visit to Downtown Disney — whether they know any of this new backstory or not.

Previously:

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