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Anaheim, Long Beach Flex Muscles in Early Bidding

January 13, 1990|MARY LOU FULTON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

ANAHEIM — The announcement that the Walt Disney Co. plans to build a new $1-billion theme park in either Anaheim or Long Beach is bound to spark a bidding war between the two cities, both eager to snag the added income and employment the park would bring.

Officials in Anaheim believe they have a strong advantage--an abundance of hotel rooms, a large convention center and the lure of Disney's first and best-known amusement park, Disneyland.

But authorities in Long Beach believe they can offer three attractive features that Anaheim cannot--a prime oceanfront location, a larger site and less-congested freeway access.

The stakes are high: Disneyland is the centerpiece of tourist attractions that brought Anaheim about $15.5 million in sales tax revenue last year.

"Here I have the first opportunity before Long Beach to say the answer is, 'Yes, yes, yes,' " Anaheim Mayor Fred Hunter said immediately after the announcement by Walt Disney Co. Chairman Michael D. Eisner.

"The mayor of Anaheim can say, 'Yes, yes, yes' to Disney, but he can't say, 'Yes, yes, yes' to an open checkbook," Long Beach Vice Mayor Wallace Edgerton countered in an interview later, pointing out that neither city has been told precisely how much the project would cost each municipality.

The new park will be built either on about 66 acres next to Disneyland, or on 55 acres of land and 256 acres of water around the Queen Mary in Long Beach that the Disney Co. has the right to develop, Eisner said Friday.

Anaheim officials, who were kept in the dark about plans for a new park, were stunned by Friday's announcement. But officials immediately endorsed the idea and started making promises.

"Anaheim is ready to cut any deal we'll have to," declared Anaheim City Councilman Irv Pickler. "If we haven't given that message to Disneyland, we're going to give it to Disneyland real soon."

In Long Beach, a Disney executive made a presentation to city officials on Thursday about plans for a nautical-theme park next to the Queen Mary-Spruce Goose attraction, which Disney bought from the Wrather Corp. in 1988. Disney has been discussing the possibility of such a park in Long Beach for more than a year, so Friday's announcement was not a surprise.

Long Beach officials said they have considered an ocean landfill, tax exemptions and parking garages to attract Disney. But they are moving with caution, vowing to study the park's impact on the city's economy, traffic flow, parking shortage and quality of life before deciding how much they would spend to bring the amusement park giant to town.

"We will not allow ourselves to do something foolish because of what may or may not be some competitive bidding," Councilman Ernie Kell said. "It has got to be a plus for us as well as Disneyland. If we end up with more traffic and more smog--those days are gone."

Eisner described the new park as "in development" and would say only that the facility would open in the 1990s.

The new park will be built in the city that demonstrates the best plan for handling the traffic and parking problems the massive attraction will generate, he said.

"It depends a lot on which community wants us more," Eisner said.

He noted that the congested Disneyland area already has problems with traffic and circulation. "Long Beach has a little less of a problem" because the Long Beach Freeway that ends at the Queen Mary area is one of the least-used freeways in the Los Angeles area, Eisner said.

Anaheim Assistant City Manager James Ruth said his city is studying how to improve traffic in the Disneyland area, and will expand the study to include strategies for handling a new theme park. Anaheim is prepared to provide off-site transportation and parking for the new attraction, Ruth said, noting that the city is experienced in handling traffic jams from both Disneyland and Anaheim Stadium.

"We're willing to take risks," Ruth said. "We do want it. We want it badly."

Long Beach officials believe their trump card is the ocean. Councilman Evan Anderson Braude said the ambience of a seaside attraction and superior freeway access will be in his city's favor.

"For something new and exciting, they're better off here," Braude said.

But while Long Beach may have a transportation and ocean-side advantage, the city is far less prepared to handle the millions of tourists who would visit the park. Long Beach has just 4,400 hotel and motel rooms, compared to about 16,000 in Anaheim.

The Anaheim Convention Center, which drew more than 1 million conventioneers last year, is about nine times larger than the Long Beach Convention Center.

Although the idea of building theme parks next door to each other might seem odd, the Disney Co. has had great success with the concept in Orlando, Fla., where Walt Disney World, the Epcot Center, Disney-MGM Studios Theme Park and a water theme park are part of the same complex.

A new park "would make Anaheim even more of a destination city," Eisner said.

But he also extolled the virtues of a nautical-theme park in Long Beach, saying, "We believe this area could be developed into a Southern California attraction and are considering plans to do so."

Long Beach Councilman Les Robbins said the Disney Co. already has invested "millions" in plans for a Long Beach park. "They have enough invested in this Long Beach project that they're not going to walk away," Robbins said.

Officials from both cities observed that it was shrewd of the Disney Co. to pit them against each other for the company's benefit.

"Hey, it's business, man," Robbins said. "May the best city win."

Times staff writers Roxana Kopetman and Faye Fiore contributed to this story from Long Beach.

COMPARING CITIES

ANAHEIM LONG BEACH Acres available 66 55 acres (land) for new park 256 (water) Hotel/motel rooms 16,000 4,400 Convention center 800,000 sq feet 88,000 sq feet Tourists 35 million in Orange County 2.8 million in Long Beach City population 234,000 400,000

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