Disney Wins Rights to Downtown Site for Hotel in Long Beach

Times Staff Writer

The real estate development arm of the Walt Disney Co. won exclusive rights this week to a downtown parcel of land for construction of what could be the biggest hotel in the city.

The action Monday by the Long Beach Redevelopment Agency board was the beginning of what could become the city's most important redevelopment project: an 800- to 1,200-room resort hotel linked to a $1-billion theme park at the Queen Mary across the bay.

Disney officials recently told City Council members and staff that they are considering building a marine-oriented theme park that would employ 10,000 people. The Queen Mary would be part of the project, but the Spruce Goose flying boat may have to go elsewhere.

But these plans could evaporate with a wave of Tinker Bell's magic wand. Disney is not committed to going ahead with either project beyond the planning stage. Disney Development Director David Malmuth said the decision is still at least a couple of months away. Disney acquired the Queen Mary/Spruce Goose lease when it bought Wrather Corp. last year.

Disney Chairman Michael D. Eisner came to Long Beach a month ago to meet with City Council members, port commissioners and city staff. Over lunch at the Port of Long Beach Administration Building, Eisner and his top executives briefed local officials.

They said the theme park would face the ocean or downtown Long Beach and would use the Queen Mary as a backdrop if it is not directly incorporated into the project. The fate of the historic Spruce Goose, the birch-framed Howard Hughes flying boat that is displayed under a giant white dome, remains in doubt.

"They were very negative about the Spruce Goose," said Councilman Evan Anderson Braude, who attended the session. "It doesn't look like it will fit into their plans."

Malmuth said the fate of the airplane remains under study.

The theme of the amusement park would involve mankind's relationship with the sea and would radically differ from any project the company has undertaken in the past, Disney executives said.

Disney and city officials said the largest hurdle facing the project is the task of moving visitors and employees to the site on the Long Beach waterfront as Southern California becomes increasingly congested with traffic.

Malmuth said that some employees could use the $752-million Los Angeles-Long Beach light rail line due to open next year, but that the mass transit line will be of limited value for bringing guests to the theme park and hotel until it is linked with Metro Rail and other light rail lines.

As approved by the city Redevelopment Agency, the agreement requires Disney to present its master plan by Jan. 30 for the 14.8-acre hotel site near Pine Avenue and Shoreline Drive.

The developers envision a complex similar in size and scope to the Disneyland Hotel. It would host conventions as well as tourists visiting the Queen Mary theme park.

The new hotel could be twice the size of the 521-room Hyatt Regency, so far the largest hotel in Long Beach.

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