Welcome to Theme Park Insider! Join the community or log in
Theme Park Insider
Facebook Twitter YouTube Email Newsletter

Walt Disney World Resort planning parking garages, new retail for Downtown Disney

Written by
Published: February 19, 2013 at 12:17 PM

Get ready for lots of new construction around the Downtown Disney district in Florida. Disney's just filed a slew of permit applications for infrastructure work in and around the Downtown Disney area. The work should add new retail space to the district, while addressing the parking traffic problems that have plagued the area in recent years.

Mickey constructionA source tipped me to the project over the weekend, and yesterday, Park Rumors dropped a bunch of documents related to the project. If you're into civil engineering, you can find Disney's permit applications on the South Florida Water Management District's website. (Insider's tip: Although Disney famously lobbied the Florida Legislature to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District to allow Disney to oversee its own zoning and planning -- and thus, to avoid public filings on new projects -- Disney still has to file permits with the water district for any new construction that affects storm- or ground-water use. Which is just about every significant project in water-soaked Florida. So the water district's a great place to look for advance news about new construction at the Walt Disney World Resort.)

Disney's pitched new plans for Downtown Disney before, of course. The Pleasure Island nightclubs closed years ago, but now the much-publicized Hyperion Wharf replacement's gone, too. Whether Disney manages to sign up new partners for a retail expansion or not, this new project's gone to the permitting stage because, at the very least, Disney needs to do something about traffic and parking at Downtown Disney.

Which any recent Disney World visitor can tell you, is a mess. The new plans call for two multi-story parking garages, with one replacing the current surface lots south of the movie theaters and the other going in south of the World of Disney building. The surface lot south of Planet Hollywood would become a new bus station and the surface lots south of the old Pleasure Island would become a new retail area.

The new garages should add thousands of parking spaces to the area, even with the loss of several current surface lots. To address the persistent traffic jams on Buena Vista Drive, Disney's planning to build several overpasses, allowing traffic to flow into the new parking garages without having to hold so many cars at lights on BVD. The concept should be familiar to any recent visitors to Disneyland, where Disney in the late 1990s built an overpass above an existing street to ease access into a new parking structure.

And to address pedestrian congestion inside Downtown Disney, the plans include a footbridge spanning the bay between Fulton's and Cap'n Jack's.

So what new retail can we expect with this project? Concept art and notes suggest a World of Coca-Cola and an American Girl Place, as well as a makeover of Planet Hollywood into something called The Observatory. Park Rumors reported that the entire district would be renamed Disney Springs, while the new retail area would be called Town Center, the old Pleasure Island would be called The Landing, and the West Side and Village Marketplace would retain their names. No word yet on construction start or completion dates.

Thoughts?

Readers' Opinions

From Mark Hollamon on February 19, 2013 at 12:30 PM
I have never noticed a parking problem at Downtown Disney. Of course if everybody wants to park right next to the World of Disney store there is only so much space there, but the West side parking lot is HUGE and rarely have I seen it 1/3 full.

Do new construction plans call for something being built on that lot? I just don't see the need for a parking garage. It's so not Disney.

From Anon Mouse on February 19, 2013 at 1:45 PM
No word on the entertainment options. Will there be a dance hall? Or a gaming arcade (not counting Disney Quest). At least they are improving the parking.
From 153.136.5.100 on February 19, 2013 at 3:45 PM
I would be super sad to see Planet Hollywoood go. I love that place
From Melanie Howe on February 19, 2013 at 5:15 PM
Disney Springs, huh? Nope, don't see me ever getting used to that name....I still have a problem with "Downtown Disney" sometimes. I'm so old school that I still call the whole area -- shopping, hotels, all of it -- the Disney Village and always will :-).
From Anthony Murphy on February 19, 2013 at 5:20 PM
Sure, why not?

The only issue I ever had with the parking was the traffic in and out. The actual parking was not horribe, but a garage would be nice.

American Girl Dolls? Its a hit in Chicago so I don't see why it wouldn't work in WDW. Just think all the special Disney dresses!

From Skipper Adam on February 20, 2013 at 7:16 AM
I'm all for these major changes. For three reasons. The first being that locals often avoid the place like the plague because traffic and parking really do suck. It's reached the point where Disney is losing out on a lot of potential profits because there is not enough room in the parking lots.

The second is that the parking garages, new bus stops and pedestrian walking areas will make it feel like a more urban, chic place. At least in my mind I'm starting to picture it less as an extensive Main St Emporium and more of a mall. It sounds like parts will retain it's small village feel and others will be more alive and fresh for a new demographic.

Third reason I like these plans is that it hopefully will bring a handful of outside vendors so add a whole lot more variety to the experience. If we aren't getting thigns Imax, perhaps a theater for musical tours and a cool mini golf course, having the World of Coco-cola and things will add variety to break away from the generic Disney merchandise that seems to add a shopping and exploration monotony to going to DTD.

From Russell Meyer on February 20, 2013 at 8:09 AM
I think all of this work was inevidible. However, the one part of the rumor that is not reported here is the possibility that Disney will begin to charge for parking at Downtown Disney in the new garages. The rumors are sketchy, but it's likely that guests who park and do not get some sort of validation from a merchant would pay an hourly parking fee upon exiting.

It has gotten common for off-site guests to park at Downtown Disney and ride one of the busses to a theme park, avoiding the daily parking fee. It's not necessarily vehicles parking all day, but people that arrive in the late afternoon and bus over to one of the parks for the nighttime show and back to their vehicle at Downtown Disney.

From 65.33.226.3 on February 20, 2013 at 12:45 PM
I think they need to expand Earl Of Sandwich
From Aaron McMahon on February 20, 2013 at 11:16 PM
I think there will definitely be a parking charge now. I'm kinda bummed about it since DD is close to our timeshare resort and was a nice place to go to in the afternoon before the parking got out of hand.

The free parking gave it priority for a movie or restaurant over City Walk.

From Aaron McMahon on February 20, 2013 at 11:22 PM
Disney and AMC must be kicking themselves for not putting in a full size Imax (like the ones at City Walk Hollywood not Orlando)in the old Virgin Megastore building especially since Disney has most of it's movies released in Imax.

I think there's a chance they could put one in (Disney Quest?)since they're making advances at Imax that feature both film and digital projectors as well as the upcoming Imax Laser Projector.

AMC's ETX with Dolby Atmos looks nice but just doesn't have the brand recognition of Imax.

From Eric G on February 20, 2013 at 11:49 PM
Downtown Disney is not missing out on IMAX.

IMAX is not building new theaters. What they are building is fake-IMAX (aka Digital IMAX) and the majority are conversions of existing auditoriums, not new construction and they don't offer the amazing IMAX experience with six-story tall screens and 15/70 projection. Digital IMAX is garbage.

AMC's ETX, Regal's RPX and Cinemark's XD are equal to Digital IMAX. They all use oversized silver screens without masking (which sucks I should add), enhanced digital audio (Dolby Atmos or Dolby Digital 7.1) systems and 4K projection. The only difference with Digital IMAX is that it uses two 4K projectors projecting on the same screen, which ultimately does nothing to enhance the image.

It's funny, but I've never had a problem parking at the Downtown Disney in Orlando. I doubt the increase in parking will bring out the locals though. Downtown Disney in Anaheim was never of interest to me and I lived minutes from it for over a decade.

From 216.64.80.82 on February 21, 2013 at 12:14 PM
I'm local and hate the traffic at DD. It's a complete pain in the rear even though I know which lanes to get into at which time. If they do start charging for parking, hopefully that will get rid of some of the hassle of the off property people who park there and take buses over to the parks.

I've given up on finding spaces at the Marketplace, I just head for Cirque du Soliel and park over there.

As far as the movies go, I don't go there for them. Why pay $9 for a matinee when I can go to Festival Bay and pay $5.75?

From Aaron McMahon on February 22, 2013 at 12:48 AM
Imax doesn't actually "build" theaters. They sell their technology to theaters, usually museums or chains like AMC. As for the sound, Imax actually has the advantage since they only have 5 speakers (which are like 10 thousand watts)and laser aligned to give the action a more precise and immersed experience. This is the same between Imax digital or film.

Most regular theaters have 5 or 7 Dolby channels but through like 12 speakers which muffles the movement of the sound in the theater.

As for the digital projectors, they have two 2K projectors which is outdated since most chains have updated to 4K for most of their theaters. Though I thought The Avengers was much more clear and sharp in digital Imax than Real D 3D when I saw it in the same theater complex.

Also Hollywood hasn't given up on the REAL Imax since Star Trek Into Darkness and the Hunger Games sequel will be shot in full frame Imax which can only be taken advantage of in the old school giant screens.

This article has been archived and is no longer accepting comments.

Previous article: Don't be bugged on vacation: How to inspect your hotel room for bed bugs



Planning a trip to Walt Disney World?

Family vacation

Insider's Pick: Don't try to do Disney without the ever-entertaining and informative Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World 2014. Save time and money with these tested tips and strategies for getting the most from a Disney World vacation. It's a great investment in happiness for you and your family.

Get it! In paperback | For Kindle | For iBooks