Disney Embraces IP for California Real Estate Development

March 24, 2023, 3:52 PM · Disney is leaning into its IP with new real estate development. That's a change for Disney, which did little to make its two previous real estate communities in the United States look like an extension of its theme parks.

After developing two communities near the Walt Disney World Resort in Florida, Disney is introducing a new "Storyliving by Disney" brand for residential developments around the country. The first will be Cotino, now under development in Rancho Mirage, California, east of Los Angeles. [See my previous post, Disney Announces New Residential Real Estate Business for more about that initial news.]

Disney today released a new concept image for a clubhouse in Cotino.

Parr House at Cotino, a Storyliving by Disney community
Image courtesy Disney

Fans of The Incredibles should recognize that design, instantly. It's the same look as the mid-century modern home given to the Parr family by Winston Deavor in The Incredibles 2 and recreated on the Incredicoaster at Disney California Adventure. The Cotino building - which Disney is calling the "Parr House" - will serve members of the community's Artisan Club.

Cotino's Artisan Club will be open to residents and non-residents who buy a membership and "will offer access to the waterfront clubhouse, club-only beach area and recreational water activities, as well as Disney entertainment, events and special excursions at an additional fee," Disney said in its press release.

"As the Cotino community continues to come to life, we are excited to share more information about the many opportunities Artisan Club members will have to experience Disney magic right outside their front door and down the block," said Claire Bilby, senior vice president and general manager of Disney Signature Experiences Emerging Businesses. "From Disney entertainment and events to spaces inspired by Disney stories, club members will truly experience Disney story living."

Disney's Real Estate History

Walt himself originally envisioned what became the Walt Disney World Resort as including an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow [the og EPCOT], but Disney did not actually develop a residential real estate community in the United States until it opened Celebration in 1994. Disney followed that with the Golden Oak development in 2010.

Celebration was Disney's expression of the New Urbanism design movement - albeit in an exurban setting connected to the outside world via only Kissimmee's U.S. 192, Disney's World Drive, and Central Florida GreeneWay toll road. With Golden Oak, Disney ditched New Urbanism in favor of a sprawling neighborhood of mansions (or McMansions, depending how salty you feel toward the project), ironically located adjacent to Walt Disney World's less expensive resort, Fort Wilderness.

In neither case did Disney model clubhouses or common areas in those communities after existing Disney IP. At most, Disney threw a few character statues around Golden Oak. Many residents of both communities have embraced Disney IP in their personal interior decorating, but for the most part you could take a Google Street View of either community and pass it off as just another upscale suburb from any big, warm city. (For the record, Disney sold Celebration in 2004, though it retains multiple commercial properties in that community.)

Celebration and Golden Oak could rely upon their proximity to Walt Disney World to give their residents a Disney fix. But the Disneyland Resort lies over 100 miles away from Rancho Mirage, so Disney probably needed to do something extra to help distinguish Cotino as a "Disney" community to potential buyers.

But will that undercut Disney's stated attempt to build a community where people can "write the next exciting chapter in their lives"? Use of Disney IP in Cotino may make it a more attractive purchase for people who want to live there, but it also makes the community even more attractive to investors who will just rent out its homes to people seeking a Disney-themed vacation or get-away.

Both Celebration and Golden Oak have restrictions prohibiting short-term rentals. Yes, people violate those communities' anti-Airbnb rules all the time, but they still do exist. The City of Rancho Mirage banned short term rentals as of last summer, but I do not know if Cotino will be located within the city's limits once it is built.

Disney said that it expects to begin sales for Cotino sometime this year, so stay tuned.

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