Port Disney was a planned property of The Walt Disney Company that was to have been built on 443 acres (179 ha) surrounding Queensway Bay next to the Port of Long Beach in Long Beach, California, United States. The property was to have featured a marine-themed amusement park, a marina, a cruise ship port, a specialty retail and entertainment area, and hotel accommodations. It was to be built on land occupied by the RMS Queen Mary and Hughes H-4 Hercules aircraft (nicknamed the "Spruce Goose"), which Disney acquired as a result of acquiring the Wrather company in 1989.
Port Disney was announced in July 1990, first presented to city and port officials in closed meetings, then revealed in a public meeting on July 31, 1990. This was followed by the publication of The Port Disney News, which was mailed directly to homes in 1991 to drum up public support. The project was canceled in December 1991 in favor of the planned WestCOT theme park in Anaheim. Some elements of the theme park that was to have been built at Port Disney were later incorporated into Tokyo DisneySea, which opened in 2001. On March 6, 1992, Disney announced that it would end its lease on the Queen Mary, Spruce Goose, and surrounding property; and that it would relinquish development rights to all its Long Beach properties.
Port Disney was to be built in two phases:
The planned Port Disney final build-out included development on both sides of Queensway Bay, at the mouth of the Los Angeles River. The northern side of Queensway Bay (adjacent to Long Beach's downtown) was called the "City-side", and the southern side (adjacent to the existing freight Port of Long Beach) was called the "Port-side".
The planned resort would have taken over the space occupied by the Spruce Goose, with the disposition of the plane unknown, and would have taken over two parcels of city parkland. The 3,900 proposed new rooms would have nearly doubled the then-4,800 room combined capacity of all hotels and motels within the city of Long Beach. The plan also called for filling 250 acres (100 ha) of ocean with 20,000,000 cubic yards (15,000,000 m3) of material and asked the city to widen roads and improve infrastructure to accommodate a projected 13 million visitors per year, at a total proposed cost of US$2,000,000,000 (equivalent to $3,746,300,000 in 2017). The Queen Mary would have been moved 700 feet (210 m) to a new berth. The complexity of the proposed development meant that an agreement would have to be reached between Disney, the city of Long Beach, the Port of Long Beach, the California Coastal Commission, and the Army Corps of Engineers.
The lone theme park touted for the new property would have been named DisneySea. However the park proposed for Long Beach at Port Disney would have been different from the DisneySea park that was eventually built in Tokyo.
(Port Disney News)
|DisneySea||DisneySea Theme Park|
|Marina Hotel||Marina Villa Hotel|
|Tidelands Hotel||Tidelands Convention Hotel|
|Shoreline Hotel||Shoreline Suites Hotel|
|Canal Hotel||Regatta Hotel
(west, adjacent to new marina)
(east, adjacent to Queen Mary)
|Port Hotel||Port Hotel|
|The Quay||Treasure Lagoon Park|
|unnamed Port-side marinas||Queensway Bay Marina
(near Regatta Hotel)
|Pier J Marina
(near Cruise Ship Port)
The illustrative site plan presented in the Port Disney News brochure distributed to Long Beach residents had a slightly different layout and names for some of the featured attractions. The Canal Hotel was now split into two hotels, the Regatta Hotel (on the west side) and the Canal Hotel (on the east side). In addition, The Quay was now an enclosed park and renamed Treasure Lagoon Park.
Wrather Corporation leased the Queen Mary from the City of Long Beach in 1981 and added the Spruce Goose the next year, making a pre-tax profit on the two attractions by 1983 after the city had sustained years of losses. Wrather made approximately US$7,000,000 (equivalent to $16,490,000 in 2017) in profit by 1984, but had invested US$40,000,000 (equivalent to $91,000,000 in 2017) in refurbishing and improving the two attractions. Wrather went on to announce ambitious plans to add a ten-story hotel and parking garage with 350 rooms and 30,000 sq ft (2,800 m2) in meeting space to the site by 1988; if the hotel was successful, it was to be followed by a second phase building 'The Festival Marketplace' with 125,000 sq ft (11,600 m2) in retail space; if the second phase was successful, a third phase with a 30,000 sq ft (2,800 m2) exhibition hall would follow, capitalizing on the combined Queen Mary/Spruce Goose crowds of 3,000,000 tourists per year; and finally, five to six high-rise office buildings with a combined 900,000 sq ft (84,000 m2) would be built contingent on prior successes. The proposal won the support of the Port of Long Beach, and would not require new fill.
In addition to the Queen Mary and Spruce Goose attraction leases in Long Beach, Wrather Corp. also owned the Disneyland Hotel in Anaheim since its construction, making it an irresistible target for Disney. Wrather was acquired in late September 1987 by a new company formed as an equal partnership between the Walt Disney Company and Industrial Equity (Pacific) Ltd. of Hong Kong (IEP). IEP itself was controlled by Ronald Brierley and had already amassed 28% of the approximately 10.1 million publicly-traded shares of Wrather Corporation. The remaining 72% of shares (7.3 million shares) were purchased by the Disney-IEP partnership at a cost of US$21 (equivalent to $45.24 in 2017) per share, for a total indicated price of US$152,300,000 (equivalent to $328,070,000 in 2017). Wrather had previously rejected an unsolicited offer in August 1987 from Disney at US$21.50 (equivalent to $46.31 in 2017) per share. Disney bought out IEP in March 1988 at a total indicated price of US$85,200,000 (equivalent to $176,297,355 in 2017), which was an offer on half the partnership's shares acquired in 1987 at a cost of US$23.49 (equivalent to $48.61 in 2017) per share. In doing so, Disney obtained sole ownership of the Disneyland Hotel and Long Beach attraction leases.
Since Wrather owned land adjacent to Disneyland, the acquisition of Wrather meant Disney could now either expand Disneyland or add a retail and entertainment district near the 1955 theme park. However, Wrather also held the rights to lease and develop 236 acres (96 ha) near the Queen Mary under the 1985 proposal, though much of that land was underwater, giving Disney the option to build a new park in Long Beach. By June 1989, Disney had already advanced a concept for an oceanfront theme park using the Queen Mary as a backdrop. As a first step, Disney won the right to develop a hotel on a 14.8 acres (6.0 ha) site near the intersection of Pine Avenue and Shoreline Drive, across the Queensway Bay from the Queen Mary.
In January 1990, Disney announced that a new $1-billion theme park would be built in either Long Beach or Anaheim, with Disney chairman Michael Eisner saying with typical tact "It depends a lot on which community wants us more." While Disney only owned 66 acres (27 ha) in Anaheim for development (with the acquisition of the Disneyland Hotel), it held much larger options in Long Beach: the ex-Wrather Queen Mary and Spruce Goose leases for 55 acres (22 ha) and an option to develop an additional 256 acres (104 ha) of ocean. Long Beach City Councilman Evan Anderson Braude touted the existing infrastructure and transportation. Eisner pointed out the Long Beach Freeway, which ends at Queensway Bay, was one of the least-used freeways in the Los Angeles region. Long Beach officials touted the unique opportunity to develop the oceanside location and were considering engineered fill, tax exemptions, and parking garages to help attract a new theme park, but stopped short of wholeheartedly endorsing the idea, saying that impacts on economy and traffic would be studied first. Long Beach Mayor Ernie Kell said "That [Queensway Bay land] is some of the primest land in the world, and there are many uses for it. Yes, Disney would be a key (to the city's success.) But if Disney decides not to come here, it is not the end of the world."
In contrast, Anaheim Mayor Fred Hunter took "the first opportunity before Long Beach to say the answer is, 'Yes, yes, yes,'" and Anaheim "vowed to do 'almost anything' to be Disney's choice", although Mayor Hunter believed that both projects would eventually be built. Either project was anticipated to bring in millions of dollars in tax revenues to the winning city. Formal negotiations for financial responsibility between Disney and Long Beach were scheduled to begin on September 12, 1990, after the city reviewed Disney's plans.
Several independent analysts gave the edge to Port Disney, citing the uniqueness of the project and the lack of a similar nautical/ocean theme park in Los Angeles County since the 1987 closure of Marineland. In February 1991, Disney disclosed that it had been buying large tracts of land near Disneyland in Anaheim, although Disney vice-president of development David Malmuth said the land acquisition would not affect the decision between Anaheim and Long Beach, which would be announced by the end of 1991.
Although city officials were bullish, with City Councilman Les Robbins saying "[...] if you took a (council) vote today, it would be nine-zip to pursue Disney and leave no rock unturned," and Long Beach business owners asked the city to "bend over backward" for Disney, Long Beach residents remained cool to the idea, even before the concept was presented to the public for the first time on July 31, 1990. The public unveiling followed earlier closed-door meetings presenting the concepts between Disney and city officials. Some of the representatives from 80 neighborhood associations and businesses objected to added traffic from tourists, and felt that public subsidies in the form of infrastructure improvements were not warranted for Disney, a very profitable private corporation. Still others voiced concerns that Disney, notorious for unyielding enforcement of employee grooming and dress codes, would not fill the majority of the estimated 10,000 new jobs from the local population.
Michael Humphrey, then-president of the Belmont Heights Community Association, stated "[...] Long Beach might snub its nose at Disney. Who knows? We may see history in the making." The cool reception surprised Disney officials, although Disney's project director, David Malmuth, himself a resident of Long Beach, said the company would "be willing to listen and try to understand the community's concerns."
Following the public unveiling, more impacts to Long Beach were noted, including:
Traffic concerns were echoed by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, who felt that Disney had not fully reviewed the impact of 13 million guests per year, 70% of which were anticipated to travel by private car. Critics pointed out that even with contemplated widening of the Long Beach Freeway and the new Blue Line light rail service, no real improvements to alleviate traffic were included in the Preliminary Master Plan beyond hoping that traffic to Port Disney would run opposite to the traditional commute direction.
Following the unveiling, Disney met with community groups, contacting approximately 3,000 residents in total during meetings held, on average, three times a week, between August 1990 and February 1991. Citizens of Long Beach campaigned to ensure they would have a hand in the city government's evaluation of Disney's proposal. In October 1990, a plan was approved to set up a 21-member committee, composed of nine residents (one appointed by each councilman), two residents (appointed by the mayor), and ten residents (nominated by recognized community groups).
Disney touted the benefits to the city, including linking the downtown district with the waterfront. At the time, the retail tax base in Long Beach was so poor the city was unable to support a shopping mall. In October 1990, Disney released a privately-commissioned study which projected that tax revenues within Long Beach would rise by $47 million and that Long Beach alone would see 23,900 new jobs, consisting of 12,400 directly employed by Disney and the rest indirectly from businesses supporting the new Port Disney. City officials were skeptical as the numbers were provided by Disney and did not address the cost of modifications to infrastructure, which were later revealed to include a request for $880 million in road improvements, made during an early round of negotiations with Disney. A year later, employment issues remained, with opponents wondering whether park employees would be drawn from and reflect the diversity of Long Beach residents.
Disney had already commissioned a report before declaring the competition open between Long Beach and Anaheim. The report was presented internally in October 1989 and estimated the economic impacts of new resorts as a strategic tool to build governmental support. The estimated annual tax revenue for the City of Long Beach was predicted to increase by US$79,700,000 (equivalent to $157,350,000 in 2017), with the majority of the revenue increase coming from property and hotel taxes. Anaheim's annual tax revenue was estimated to increase by US$59,400,000 (equivalent to $117,270,000 in 2017), with most of that coming from property tax, hotel tax, and convention center revenue. The later 1990 Port Disney Fiscal Impact Report provided a revised (decreased) annual tax revenue increase of US$55,500,000 (equivalent to $103,960,000 in 2017), again with most of the increase coming from hotel taxes. In comparison, the fiscal year 1991 city budget was estimated at only US$133,500,000 (equivalent to $250,070,000 in 2017).
The Friends of Port Disney group, formed to voice support for the proposed Port Disney project and advocate for the passage of SB 1062, was criticized as a sockpuppet of Disney; despite claims of independence, Disney donated the use of the Queen's Salon aboard Queen Mary for the announcement of the group's formation. Disney also allowed Friends of Port Disney to use their logo on invitations and bumper stickers. The Long Beach Chamber of Commerce endorsed the project "in concept" in October 1991, contingent on assurance the project would benefit the Long Beach business community.
Disney created a Port Disney project display room aboard the Queen Mary on the Promenade Deck in Picadilly Circus, open on Mondays and Wednesdays in the evening from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. The project display room included a large 6-by-6-foot (1.8 by 1.8 m) model of the proposed Port Disney project and other project components.
In addition to community outreach events, Disney produced the Port Disney News publication and distributed it to Long Beach residents in 1991. The paper was made to look like a newspaper and was used mainly to create public support for the planned property. The Port Disney News saw only one issue and was abandoned. A similar publication was produced for Virginia residents relating to the unbuilt Disney's America park.
During negotiations between Disney and the California Coastal Commission, Commission members informed Disney the bulk of the proposed Port Disney project was not permitted under the Coastal Act. Recreational use was prohibited on the planned 250 acres (100 ha) of new fill. California State Senator Ken Maddy and coauthors Sens. Beverly, Dills and Presley introduced Senate Bill (SB) 1062 on March 8, 1991. SB 1062 was written on Disney's behalf to clarify and confirm that Disney would have the authority under the California Coastal Act to fill open waters and build Port Disney atop the fill. Later amendments to the proposed legislation would have clarified that recreation uses are permitted on new landfill, and was later amended to apply specifically to the city of Long Beach only. Environmental groups, including the Sierra Club, and the California Coastal Commission opposed the bill, saying that despite the proposed changes, it would allow similar projects along the California coastline. The proposed legislation was seen as threatening a habitat which supported the California brown pelican, and that it would set a dangerous precedent opening the way to offshore oil drilling. Other legislators attached amendments to the proposed legislation requiring Disney to restore Southern California wetlands and set park employee diversity goals.
The bill stalled in the California State Senate Natural Resouces and Wildlife Committee, where hearings for the bill were postponed four times from April–May 1991 (three times in May alone). The Coastal Commission dropped its opposition to the bill in June 1991, overruling the recommendation from its executive director, Peter Douglas, who opposed the bill due to the projected impact on the important fish habitat in San Pedro Bay, off Long Beach. During closed-door negotiations, Disney and Committee members were unable to come to a compromise on the amount Disney would be required to pay for restoring wetlands elsewhere. Committee members initially proposed a 4:1 ratio of restoration to fill, meaning Disney and the City of Long Beach would be responsible for spending approximately $100 million to restore 1,000 acres (400 ha) to compensate for the proposed 250 acres (100 ha) of fill. Eventually, the Committee proposed a 3:1 ratio (approximately $75 million and 750 acres (300 ha) restored), while Disney would not budge from their proposal for a 2:1 ratio ($50 million, 500 acres (200 ha) restored). After discontinuing negotiations, Committee members were left with the impression that Disney would defer further negotiations to 1992.
Later in June 1991, the committee chairman canceled a hearing of the bill which was scheduled for June 25, 1991. State Senator/Chairman Dan McCorquodale felt that last-minute amendments submitted just before the scheduled hearing reneged on earlier promises that Disney had made to delay consideration of the bill until 1992, calling it "a highhanded effort of trying to breeze through the Legislature with a change that I think the Legislature has not wanted." Local business and labor leaders endorsed the proposed legislation, urging passage to provide educational opportunities and an economic boost to the region. Disney said the project would be "dead without passage of the bill." However, citing failure to reach an agreement for the specific amount it needed to spend to mitigate marine impacts, Disney shelved the legislation for further consideration in 1992.
Sources at the Port of Long Beach privately commented they wished Disney would just "dry up and blow away", citing concerns that Port Disney could interfere with operations at the busy port. When Maersk signed a renewed lease with the Port in 1991, it included an escape clause that would allow Maersk to withdraw if Port Disney affected their operations.
Faced with the uncertainty of passing SB 1062 to allow recreational use on fill, Disney unveiled a revised proposal in October 1991 reducing the amount of fill required for Port Disney from 250 acres (100 ha) to 85 acres (34 ha). The revised proposal included traffic segregation measures designed to prevent lost tourists from wandering onto Port of Long Beach property, and would not decrease the overall size of the resort. In order to avoid the recreational use restriction, the land created by new fill would be used by the oceanographic research institute and port use; the DisneySea theme park would be moved onto existing Port-side land and reconfigured to fit within the land freed up by moving the Queen Mary to the cruise ship terminal and relocating (or closing) existing harbor offices and businesses. At the same time, the Port Disney project was renamed to DisneySea, as some foreign customers of the Port of Long Beach thought the project included renaming the entire Port of Long Beach to Port Disney.
A decision on whether to proceed with the Port Disney project was scheduled to be made by January 1992. The mayor of Long Beach cited the issues with SB 1062, stating that he "just [doesn't] think it makes as much economic sense for Disney or the city now," in November 1991, and the Port Disney project was canceled in favor of the WestCOT project in December 1991. In announcing the decision, Disney officials cited the cost of regulatory review involving 27 different government agencies on the federal, state and local levels, which could cost up to US$70,000,000 (equivalent to $125,800,000 in 2017).
According to former Disney cast members, the company abandoned the idea mainly due to its significant financial problems caused by the EuroDisney Project (the cost of the construction and operation of the marina was an estimated $1 billion at the time) which ultimately led to the cancellation of the Port Disney and the planned Disney WestCOT Project in Anaheim. David Malmuth later stated "It was really my inability to muster the support that I needed within the Walt Disney Company" that led to the selection of the Anaheim proposal. City of Long Beach employees say that it was abandoned because the city did not agree to make expensive improvements to the Long Beach Freeway and other roads leading to the development site as requested by Disney.
There's something crucial to keep in mind here. This plan is not being proposed to a city whose downtown is exactly hopping. Basically, Long Beach has been trying--and failing--to do CPR on its downtown for 20 years. What they've got for their trouble, so far, is a bunch of isolated skyscrapers, empty lots and the bombed-out look of a sunny Detroit.
So now come the Disney people, making an implicit promise. They are saying, "We can theme this city and bring it to life. We can succeed where the city has failed. Our unreal world is more powerful than any reality the city could produce."
The interesting and sad part is, Disney probably speaks the truth. The company estimates that 13 million people a year would visit their version of Long Beach. I believe them. Perhaps it's because a downtown-by-Disney provides the sense of safety that a real downtown could never offer. Disney's Long Beach will have strolling, shopping, volcanoes--and no risk.
Nor will it require, as do real cities, a willingness to search and explore for the good stuff. Port Disney's secrets will all be revealed in a brochure. You will have the "mysteries" of the sea offered to you inside a glass bubble while outside, just yards away, the real sea will glimmer quietly in the moonlight. And, somehow, the real thing will seem slightly diminished.
Nonetheless, we will love it. We will be fed, entertained, and finally monorailed to our hotel for the evening. A safe hotel. A place where we can fall asleep and dream that, truly, this is urban life without a downside. The way it should be.