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What's Next for Disney? : Anaheim Land Buys Stir Speculation About a New Disneyland

February 17, 1991|CHRIS WOODYARD and KEVIN JOHNSON | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

ANAHEIM — As word leaked last week that the Walt Disney Co. is buying land around its Anaheim amusement park, industry analysts and consultants were speculating what the new Disneyland might look like.

Some expect the new undertaking to be similar to projects the company has already undertaken elsewhere--such as an Epcot Center, studio tour or Pleasure Island entertainment center. But others say that the Disney magic as an innovator still lives and that it could produce something new and unexpected.

Disney itself has remained largely silent and has sworn Anaheim officials, consultants and nearby property owners to secrecy. In a terse statement Tuesday, Disney said only that its project will "serve as a catalyst for the revitalization" of the Disneyland area.

The company said the nature and extent of the project will soon be made clear. What's already clear is that the company has been buying up property near Disneyland. And sources say the firm plans two new theme parks and several hotels.

Disney gave the first hint of its project, which one source termed a "massive undertaking," in January, 1990. The company then said it would spend more than $1 billion to build a new amusement park in either Anaheim or Long Beach. It also said it would refurbish 35-year-old Disneyland, rebuilding Tomorrowland and adding several new theme areas within the park, including a studio-tour-like attraction called Hollywoodland.

Indeed, the plans for Disneyland may amount only to a major expansion of the existing park. The park will be reinvigorated with a series of major rides, new "lands" and other attractions. But these lands or attractions could become separate parks--each with its own admission gate, analysts say.

Still, most industry observers are betting that Disney will propose a new world's fair-style Epcot Center, similar to the one at Walt Disney World in Florida. In fact, a Disney planner said last year that the firm was planning an Epcot clone for Disneyland.

But there is another school of thought that expects a studio tour similar to the Disney MGM Studios in Orlando. Such an attraction, in the heartland of the movie industry, would be a challenge to Universal Studios near Hollywood.

Then there are those who expect an entirely new concept or combination of various new and old attractions. Sources said last week that Disney will propose not one but two new theme parks.

No matter what is eventually built, there is a feeling among some analysts that Disney's investment in Anaheim will be a hit.

"The secret of Disney's success is that it is Disney," said Tom Powell, editor of Amusement Business Magazine in Nashville, Tenn. "I think anything Disney does will be successful."

Under Chairman Michael Eisner, the Walt Disney Co. has been one of the most profitable and growth-oriented companies of the last decade. The company derives nearly a third more revenue from its theme parks than from the next-closest division, motion pictures. The company's net income in the fiscal year ended Sept. 30 was $824 million.

Now flush with cash, Disney has begun to shop for more land near Disneyland.

It was disclosed last week that Disney has bought a 23-acre abandoned trailer park cater-corner from Disneyland, is negotiating for 58 adjoining acres of farmland and has quietly obtained some land leases from some of the older motels that border the park.

The present Disneyland parking lot is the most probable locale for a new theme park, said John Robinett, a principal with Economics Research Associates in Los Angeles, a theme park consulting firm. From a technical standpoint, side-by-side parks could share the same backstage and support areas, Robinett said.

From a business standpoint, directly linked parks could amount to the closest approximation to Disney's highly successful formula in Florida. There guests stay for up to a week--perhaps never leaving Disney property--spending money in company-owned parks, hotels, restaurants, golf courses and shops.

Margo L. Vignola, an analyst with the Salomon Brothers investment firm in New York, said the company is probably more inclined to replicate its Florida parks in Southern California rather than experiment with new concepts.

"I think Disneyland has been a little timeworn," Vignola said. "They've enjoyed phenomenal success with Epcot and the studio tour in Florida. I think they are more inclined to do what's been done."

She and other analysts say Disney is most likely to propose building a West Coast Epcot Center. They might be right if for no other reason than that the top planner for the Disneyland expansion project said so last summer.

"What we're working on at this point is an Epcot-related concept for a 'second gate' in Anaheim," said Kerry Hunnewell in an interview last July. He has since refused comment about the project.

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