Almost a decade ago, the Disney Co. did nearly everything it could to stop the GardenWalk mall from being built, denigrating it as a tacky, traffic-snarling eyesore. Now that the upscale outdoor mall is on the verge of opening, it appears Disney wants a piece of the action.
The entertainment giant plans to operate two hotels in the massive Katella Avenue project across the street from Disney's planned third park and near California Adventure, according to a Disney insider and another source familiar with the project.
Bill Stone, GardenWalk's developer, would not confirm or deny the report.
"Times have changed, Disney has changed, its management has changed," said Stone, a San Diego-based developer who has been involved with the project since 1999. "They once viewed us as competition. But we really do complement each other."
Al Lutz of the fan website MiceAge.com reported Tuesday that two of the four new hotels Disney plans in the Anaheim Resort District would be in GardenWalk. He wrote that one would be a moderately priced "family hotel" with rooms having themes including Disney or Pixar characters. The other would be smaller and more luxurious, similar to a "big city W Hotel," Lutz wrote. The hotels would have a total of 866 rooms.
Disney would provide the licensed use of its name and characters and hire employees to operate and manage the facilities, according to the website. Lutz said the arrangement would be unique because Disney would not own the property.
A person familiar with GardenWalk confirmed that Disney would operate the hotels.
Disney spokesman Rob Doughty declined to confirm that his company was involved with GardenWalk.
"It's a rumor, and we don't comment on rumors," he said.
The website's report came as a surprise to Councilwoman Lucille Kring, who was on the council in the late 1990s when Disney and other business owners vehemently opposed the 20-acre retail mall, then called Pointe Anaheim.
"It does make you scratch your head," said Kring, who is opening a wine bar in GardenWalk. "They were so against it, and now they are embracing it."
Eight years ago, Disney officials argued that Pointe Anaheim would have gaudy signs, inadequate parking and poorly designed traffic patterns that would conflict with Anaheim's mission to create a visually appealing district.
But days before the City Council unanimously approved the project, Disney officials dropped their opposition when Pointe Anaheim agreed to limit signs, increase parking and change traffic routes.
After several false starts, a name change and an economic downturn caused in part by the Sept. 11 attacks, GardenWalk is within months of opening. The first of about 80 restaurants and shops will debut from November to January, including Roy's of Hawaii, Cheesecake Factory, McCormick & Schmick's Grill and P.F. Chang's.
The shopping area, which will include movie theaters, a bowling alley/nightclub and a fitness center, is expected to open in May. A 400-unit time share-condo project and the Disney hotels should be completed by late 2009 or 2010.
Plans call for the family hotel to be on the southern tip of the 20-acre mall near most of the restaurants. The more exclusive hotel would be built on the northern end near the Heat Ultra Lounge and Bar Louie nightclubs.