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


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.

Disney contends that the project would complement Long Beach's efforts to revitalize its once-thriving downtown by linking the city's center to the sea. In keeping with Coastal Commission rules, portions of the development would be accessible to the non-paying tourist, with promenades, bikeways and restaurants.

Some road improvements are called for to help traffic flow in and out of the park, including a new road into DisneySea. The plan also calls for widening the Long Beach Freeway, already contemplated by the city.

To a great extent, though, Disney is counting on tourist traffic running opposite to the rush hour flow. Disney also assumes that two-thirds of its guests will be from out of town and can be directed to use the widened Long Beach Freeway and the new Blue Line light rail.

But some Long Beach residents have already expressed concern that Disney will fail to mitigate traffic and congestion problems that have fomented complaints from city leaders in Orlando, Fla., home of the expansive Walt Disney World.

Stanley Green, a traffic engineer and Long Beach neighborhood leader, said he expected Disney's plans for people moving to be more innovative than the road improvements and traffic flow projections outlined Tuesday by Disney.

"There ain't gonna be no such thing as off-peak periods," he said. "Disney is apparently planning to handle traffic the way we've been handling traffic for 40 years. That's what's gotten us in the mess we're in today."

Not a word of opposition has been heard in Anaheim, and the community is already prepared for widening of the Santa Ana Freeway to accommodate an estimated 3 million to 5 million new visitors a second attraction might bring annually. They have yet to figure a way to handle surface street congestion and parking.

Among the possible sites Disney might build on in Anaheim are a 40-acre strawberry field north of the Disneyland Hotel, 26 acres southwest of the hotel, and 120 acres of the existing Disneyland parking lot, all of which the corporation owns.

Disney would have to lease or buy any of the land it might build on in Long Beach.

Yet to be resolved in Long Beach is the thorny question of who will split the cost of urban improvements such as road widenings--and the profits the resort would yield.

As company Chairman Michael D. Eisner once noted, Disney does not build roads.

As Long Beach Mayor Kell also noted, Long Beach wants a piece of the spoils, whether it is sales tax revenue due the city or a slice of ticket sales.

"Michael Eisner was the highest-paid executive in the United States last year and he didn't do that by giving cities great deals in negotiations," he said. "They have to return solid money to the general fund. We need to fight crime, hire more police and improve life for the people who live here."

If a compromise is worked out--and many city officials were confident it would be--Disney's presence could turn Long Beach around, a town with a retail sales tax base so poor that it hasn't been able to support a shopping mall.

Said Community Redevelopment Director Susan Shick, "It represents tremendous revenue potential, tremendous identification for Long Beach."

Times staff writers Roxana Kopetman and Chris Woodyard contributed to this report.

Disney Proposal For Park In Long Beach Key elements of the Walt Disney Co.'s first master plan for a 350-acre, $2-billion oceanside resort and theme park in Long Beach. The park would be dubbed Port Disney-a complex of hotels, waterfront restaurants, ocean cruises and a theme park. Shoreline Aquatic Park: Hotel, retail and entertainment center Quay: Excursions, dinner boats, charters World Port: Ferry landing, restaurants, retail, historic vessels, attraction boats

Copyright © 2019, Los Angeles Times
EDITION: California | U.S. & World