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Disney Unveils Plans : Entertainment: Officials tell of $2-billion oceanside theme park and resort in Long Beach. Tough negotiations with city lie ahead.

August 01, 1990|FAYE FIORE | TIMES STAFF WRITER

After months of secret meetings and some wild speculation, the Walt Disney Co. on Tuesday unveiled its master plan for a 350-acre, $2-billion oceanside resort and theme park in Long Beach, with everything from five luxury hotels to the world's biggest aquarium.

The long-awaited plan is the product of months of work by Disney "imagineers" who conjured up Port Disney--a complex of waterfront dining, a marina, a theme park that explores the "mysteries of the sea," and underwater steel cages where tourists can swim with sharks.

The key question that remained unanswered in the 70-page plan is this: Will it ever be built, or will Anaheim win this race?

Disney has committed itself to constructing a second West Coast amusement park, but has yet to decide whether to put it near the Queen Mary in Long Beach or near Disneyland in Anaheim, where the company is considering a concept similar to Florida's Epcot Center.

Details of the competing Anaheim plan are expected to be presented to the public next year. The Long Beach project was shown Tuesday in keeping with a deadline imposed by the Port of Long Beach, which has given Disney exclusive negotiating rights on more than 300 acres of prime port land, most of it under water.

Disney officials said their decision will not be made "for some time," leaving Long Beach and Anaheim locked in competition for a development that could generate millions of tax dollars.

Anaheim has vowed to do "almost anything" to be Disney's choice, and officials said they have been huddling with the entertainment giant, which requires that all its creative plans be kept confidential.

Anaheim Mayor Fred Hunter insisted there is no competition between the two cities and that both projects would one day be built.

"We are not here to compete with Long Beach and the ocean," Hunter said.

In Long Beach, Disney's sketches of a vibrant shoreline with tropical reefs, teeming tourists and circular structures rising like bubbles from its midst were met with enthusiasm and caution.

"I'm excited. I think it's an excellent opportunity for the city of Long Beach, and I think we can work out the problems," Long Beach Mayor Ernie Kell said. "But if we don't work out the problems, I won't support it. We don't want to get gobbled up by the giant."

City leaders and some vocal residents are insisting that Disney pay heed to traffic problems, poor air quality and other unpleasantries an estimated 13 million tourists a year can bring.

For its part, Disney said it is looking for a city willing to pay for necessary road improvements, and with a consensus of support for a Disney venture.

If Port Disney is constructed, it would not open for at least 10 years, would cost more than $2 billion, and could create 10,000 jobs, Disney and city officials said.

The project would be built on precious coastal land--250 acres of it now under water--and would require the consent of a slew of agencies, including the California Coastal Commission, the Army Corp of Engineers, the Long Beach Harbor Commission and City Hall. The permit process could take two to five years, Kell said.

Though Disney has yet to decide on Long Beach, negotiations are expected to begin as early as mid-September, with environmental impact reports, public hearings and predicted hard bargaining over who would pay for it all.

Hanging in the balance is an ocean resort of education, entertainment and fantasy like none Disney has ever built:

* DisneySea, a theme park of rides and attractions "featuring the myths, romance and mysteries of the sea." The park would revolve around Oceana, a complex of futuristic bubbles that depict the evolution of the seas and a working Future Research Center, where scientists from the world's leading institutions would gather for oceanographic studies.

* Five resort hotels, each recalling an aspect of the waterfronts of the world, with 3,900 rooms, some of them luxury accommodations.

* Specialty retail shops, waterfront dining and entertainment for local residents and tourists.

* Boats "of every size, shape and origin" offered for rental, excursions, shows and dining.

* Four hundred new marina slips, 250 of them long term and the rest guest slips for a day or weekend.

* A five-berth cruise ship port to be operated by the Port of Long Beach. The master plan envisions possible cruises to Mazatlan, Ensenada, San Francisco, Seattle and Alaska, with nearby excursions to Marina del Rey, Catalina Island and Newport Harbor.

* Shuttles, water taxis and a potential monorail linking the resort that flanks Queensway Bay, between the port and the downtown shoreline.

The Queen Mary, already owned by Disney, would be moved 700 feet to a new berth, although a use for the ship remains under study.

The Spruce Goose, also owned by Disney, is not included in the master plan. Disney officials have not said what would become of the historic plane, only that "alternative uses" would be explored.

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