Disneyland Announces Plans for Major Expansion

March 25, 2021, 4:00 PM · The Disneyland Resort is planning a major expansion of its theme parks and is seeking local government approval to begin, the resort announced today.

The proposed DisneylandForward expansion project will not involve Disney acquiring new property in Anaheim. But it will seek approval from the City of Anaheim to allow Disneyland to be more flexible in how it uses its current property. The result could be an expansion of the Disneyland and Disney California Adventure theme parks west of Disneyland Drive onto land currently used as parking lots and the creation of a "Disneytown"-style shopping, dining, and hotel district on the site of the current Toy Story parking lot.

"With these updated approvals, Disneyland Resort can continue to invest and be an industry leader in bringing first-of-a-kind offerings to Anaheim, which in turn will create thousands of new jobs and help support Anaheim's funding for important services such as fire, police, and public schools," a Disneyland statement said.

Disney's 1990s agreement with the city that created the Anaheim Resort District currently restricts how Disney can its property, assigning areas for use as theme parks, hotels, or parking. But Disney would like to erase those distinctions, allowing it to create a more "integrated" experience in Anaheim. Disneyland is not seeking public funding for its plans nor approval to add hotel rooms or attractions beyond what the city already has agreed to, Disney officials said.

"We feel completely comfortable with the quantity that we have approved," a Disney official said. "We just need the flexibility to try to deliver on those quantities in different ways."

Concept images shared with reporters showed what could be an expansion of Disneyland into the Downtown Disney parking lot and DCA into the Simba lot. Disney officials said that they are not proposing a third gate in Anaheim but rather an expansion of the existing two theme parks.

Disneyland Expansion Map
Images courtesy Disneyland. Click to enlarge

Westside expansion
"Possible immersive theme park that could include hotel, retail, dining and entertainment" - Disney

Disney officials did not detail any specific attractions that could be included as part of these theme park expansions. But they did cite the Fantasy Springs expansion at Tokyo DisneySea and Zootopia at Shanghai Disneyland as well as the Toy Story Land and TRON Lightcyle Run attractions as the type of projects that could be designed for Anaheim if the parks had additional space for expansion.

As for the Toy Story lot, Disneyland officials suggested that space could become a locals-focused dining and entertainment area, along the lines of the Disneytown area next to Shanghai Disneyland or a plussed version of Walt Disney World's Disney Springs.

Toy Story Lot replacement
"A new kind of Disney entertainment destination that could include theme park, hotel, retail, dining and entertainment" - Disney

But where would guests park, with thousands of surface spaces removed to accommodate these plans? As part of the DisneylandForward project, Disneyland is reviving the "Eastern Gateway" parking garage off Interstate 5 and its connection across Harbor Boulevard to the parks.

That project died after hotels and businesses along Harbor complained that it would cut Disneyland visitors' access to their properties. Eventually, Disneyland instead built the Pixar Pals parking garage to accommodate an expected surge in attendance following the opening of Star Wars Galaxy's Edge. Disney officials expressed hope that a cooperative approach with neighbors and local officials would help win support for DisneylandForward.

"We are not asking for any public funding as we go through with this expansion," a Disney official said. "We are very hopeful that people will see it as a big, bold plan and see the long-term positive impact that this could have in our community going forward."

Today's announcement kicks off what Disneyland expects to be a two-year process to win approval for its proposal. Next steps will include draft and final environmental impact reports and a public comment period before the plan goes up for planning commission and city council approval. People can learn more about Disneyland's plans at its project website, Disneylandforward.com.

Update: For our analysis of DisneylandForward and the potential opposition to it, please see our next post, What's Behind Disneyland's Expansion Proposal?

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Replies (21)

March 25, 2021 at 4:12 PM

Interesting but before we go whole hog on "what can they build," they have to spend what will be a very long process just trying to get the okay. Still, intriguing to imagine what can be.

March 25, 2021 at 4:17 PM

Whoa! This is huge out of left field news! I agree that this is far off but it's good to hear Disney is interested in expanding their two existing parks. Each park will truly become multi-day parks, Disneyland may have been considered that for a while now more so with this. Imagine walking from Autopia in Tomorrowland to the far Western part of the expanded Disneyland by the current Disneyland Hotel. Talk about getting your steps in. This is still far off but exciting news nonetheless. This allows for future attraction development and that is always fun.

March 25, 2021 at 5:49 PM

Honestly, this is perfect timing on the part of Disney. I mean, the tourism industry is decimated, and the Anaheim city council is likely at its most vulnerable, open to the possibility of luring folks back after over a year away. If Disney takes a "Let's move "forward" together" approach, I think they just might make this happen. And, if the "we were elected on anti-Disney promises" city council doesn't budge, I'm guessing their constituents will turn on them pretty quickly.

March 25, 2021 at 7:12 PM

I'm all for expansions, but this'll just be all clones. Disney fans are different from other theme park chain fans. Disney fans will be more willing to go between California and Florida so making clones is just disappointing.

They need to focus on what they have in the parks already before considering expanding the park perimeter. Fantasyland, Tomorrowland, Hollywood land, Galaxys Edge, etc. I love expansions but theres more potential. They could make some amazing original stuff but I guess with the age of the IP, those days are gone for the time being. Don't really see any work starting on this project (at least not the theme park section) at least until 2024. They'll probably do the Toy Story parking lot area first then do the stuff near the DTD area then the theme park stuff.

Also, I wonder if there will be new entrances to the parks since they will both be connected to DTD. I'm sure those entrances will get super crowded when the expansions first open.

March 25, 2021 at 8:22 PM

This is very exciting! I hope everything is approved. On the site, “Disneyland Forward,” they mention possible lands/attractions that may be included. It mentions Frozen, Tangled, Peter Pan, Zootopia, Toy Story, and Tron, as all possibilities. This the link https://disneylandforward.com/project/possibilities#newest_lands

March 25, 2021 at 9:38 PM

I have a better idea. Why don't you rehab Tomorrowland? It's sad to walk through there and see the old PeopleMover track just wasting away. Tear it down and that's where the Tron Cycles should be.
Take care of what you currently have Disney.

March 25, 2021 at 10:35 PM

a great way to further integrate the disneyland resort with local businesses and the city of anaheim while lowering park guests and the community's demand on parking would be to improve on existing public transportation infrastructure ?? amiright folks!?!?

March 25, 2021 at 10:59 PM

Talk about coming out of left field! A couple years ago, I heard that the Disneyland Resort had MAJOR plans in place for both the Olympics in 2028 and the 75th anniversary in 2030. My assumption was that those plans were cancelled due to the pandemic, but it sounds like those plans are very much alive and we're getting our first look at them. It's a bit surprising such an announcement is being made now rather than deferring it to D23 or an investor presentation, but I suppose the primary goal right now is to get Anaheim on their side and this would be the best time to go for that.

March 25, 2021 at 11:51 PM

I know there’s speculation on what the lands could be and most what’s shown on the map is placeholders but someone pointed out at the DCA Expansion entrance the giant Panther statue from Wakanda and now I want that land!

PS I just hope we get new lands than clones. Cloning lands seems very Universal for Disney’s taste.

March 26, 2021 at 12:01 AM

I love the fact that they plan on adding to the current parks instead of building another one to try and sell another ticket, that is big plus for me!

The big issue that caused residents to revolt about the previous plan was regarding major tax breaks in exchange for the development, which anyone with a brain knows they didn't need and would have expanded the resort anyway, so I don't think there will be much local opposition at all to this. Anaheim still loves Disney they were just sick of getting taken advantage of.

March 26, 2021 at 9:16 AM

That plot of land is almost as big as California Adventure - Big enough to be an entire third gate if they wanted to.

March 26, 2021 at 9:38 AM

Ultimately, I think it's clear Disney is trying use current economic/tourism conditions as leverage to gain more freedom on building on their own proerty. To be honest, this is something Disney should have had the freedom to do for decades, but the overlords at the Anaheim City Council weren't going to give up that control over their biggest and most profitable business (and largest contributor to their coffers). Forcing Disney to jump through hoops has been cast in stone from the Council's perspective, and Disney is trying to capitalize on the perceived weakness of a governing body that needs to hold on to every penny they can keep under their control.

Objectively this proposal would be a win/win, because Disney gains the freedom to do what they want with their property and accelerate growth and expansion of their business, while the Council no longer has to face criticism for being overbearing and having to exhaust resources rebuffing every Disney proposal while keeping constituents (most of whom don't have issues with Disneyland expansion) happy and willing to keep current council members in office.

The question will be whether the Council will want to maintain the status quo of keeping their thumb on Disney, or will the financial implications caused by the pandemic force them to change their tune? I have no idea what the local political climate is within Anaheim, but I've always felt that the ongoing adversarial relationship between Disney and the Council has been detrimental to both sides, and that the Council has been stuck in the 80's for far too long.

March 26, 2021 at 12:26 PM

This is very exciting news. But I cant help thinking that anyone of those spots would have made a lot more sense for Star Wars land then in Disneyland.

March 26, 2021 at 12:42 PM

With Splash Mountain becoming Princess and the Frog down the road and the talk what will become of Critter Country, I guess we have our answer: Expansion site entrance.

March 26, 2021 at 1:21 PM

@Russell-

I agree. The DLR tried to get the city to approve of the other stuff back in like 2015 (I forgot exactly what it was but it was a new hotel, new parking structure, etc) but they got denied. Since covid kinda messed everything up, Anaheim will have a hard time saying no to Disney now because they really need the money that Disney draws in for them. It's a smart move by Disney taking advantage of the situation. The city finally teamed up with Disney to go against the state so hopefully their relationship is better now and will prosper.

March 26, 2021 at 2:37 PM

Sam Genneway's "The Disneyland Story" book is a must-read for detailing the decades of clashes between DLP and Anaheim over various issues (including how "WestCOT" became California Adventure").

March 26, 2021 at 8:18 PM

When (and if) they complete this project, Disney will be able to advertise that all 3 DLR hotels offer theme park views and private entrances to the parks.

March 27, 2021 at 6:30 PM

Postcott: "They need to focus on what they have in the parks already before considering expanding the park perimeter."

Me: Why do "They need to" do that?

March 27, 2021 at 6:30 PM

Postcott: "They need to focus on what they have in the parks already before considering expanding the park perimeter."

Me: Why do "They need to" do that?

March 29, 2021 at 9:12 AM

This is a gutsy vote of confidence for the future, after the beating that Disney has taken in the past year.

March 29, 2021 at 4:34 PM

The most important single planning issue in the Disney Anaheim resort (and ONLY there), is making the tie between the businesses around the Disney property stronger and more inclusive, instead of fighting them !
It is the ONLY "city-centre" resort Disney has.
It is a sheer matter of fact that MOST multiday visitors to Disney Anaheim stay off that property. By doing so, also the cars connected with those visitors are off property. It's all reachable on foot distance (unless you've not got legs). But if you're building more pedestrian barriers into the master plan, instead of tearing them down (building a great elevated pedestrian crossing over W Katella Av towards the Convention centre and ameliorating crossing Harbour Blvd > "pedestrians first") , the 'fight will go on' !
Disney NEEDS the business activity around the park, so it must reach out it's hand, once and forever. In that way both the local chamber of commerce AND the city officials will cheer to restructuring on the Disney property itself. Win-Win.

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