Disney's Plan May Be a Step Back to Future for Long Beach : Tourism: When the Pike shut down, the city relinquished the throne of amusement park king. But some questions need answering before it can reclaim that crown.


It was in the heady days after the turn of the century that the Pike amusement park put this city on the map with the Silver Spray Pleasure Pier and the Pike's Sideshow Museum, where you could stare undisturbed at a motionless person on a slab for several minutes.

When the old Pike shut down in 1979, with little more than a headless chicken to its name, Long Beach officially relinquished the throne of amusement park king.

Now, 85 years after the gates of the old Pike opened, there are those who believe that Long Beach's past might be its future.

"It's back to the future for Long Beach!" Councilman Ray Grabinski said delightedly this week as the Walt Disney Co. announced a preliminary master plan for Port Disney, a theme park and waterside resort with classy hotel rooms, wild rides and fantasy journeys through the evolution of the Earth's seas.

But the city that could be host to that ambitious Disney venture--should Disney choose Long Beach over Anaheim to be the home of a second West Coast park--is not the uncomplicated turn-of-the-century town it once was. This time, there are dozens of complex issues that must be resolved to the satisfaction of Disney, City Hall and a nest of public agencies, not to mention more than 400,000 Long Beach residents.

To name a few:

* The historic Spruce Goose, dear to the hearts of local aviation buffs, has been cut out of the master plan entirely, and Disney officials have yet to decide what would be done with it.

* The Queen Mary would remain, but Disney officials are studying its purpose. Whatever the ship would be used for is surely to be watched by local followers, who would want to see the historical integrity of the ship maintained.

* Two parcels of city parkland would be swallowed up by the project in a town already complaining about lack of park space.

* The plan calls for more than 250 acres of landfill, an environmental impact that federal and state officials say would have to be offset by restoring similar habitats somewhere else in the state. And wetlands are increasingly difficult to find, much less rescue, other developers have complained.

* Traffic on some city streets is already gridlocked at times, and traffic volume has reached a level that officials thought they would not see for another 30 years. A Disney resort would be expected to bring about 13 million tourists a year to town if opened in 10 years.

* Disney plans to build five hotels with 3,900 rooms--just 900 less than all of the city's existing hotel and motel rooms.

* Cruise ships venturing as far as Alaska and as near as Newport Harbor are contemplated by Disney, which could threaten existing cruise lines, particularly at the Port of Los Angeles, one of the nation's cruise line leaders.

* The $2-billion project will necessitate road widening and other urban improvements, and Disney has said a project cannot go forward unless the city picks up a share of the cost for that.

Several city officials who reviewed the 70-page plan presented to the Port of Long Beach and City Hall this week pronounced Disney's ideas "workable."

Hotel operators contend that there will be plenty of business to go around 10 years from now, the earliest that planners say the park would be built. And the lost park space appears to be compensated by tree-lined promenades and shoreline entertainment that Disney says would give the non-paying public more access to the downtown coast than it has today.

"I think it's very workable," said Community Development Director Susan Shick, one of the city's four-member negotiating team named to iron out the details with Disney. "It makes a lot of sense. It's a first-class, quality development."

The other negotiators are City Manager James C. Hankla, Acting Port Director Steve Dillenbeck and City Atty. John Calhoun.

Talks are to begin as soon as next week, although formal negotiations with Disney are not to begin until Sept. 12, after the city has an opportunity to review Disney's plans thoroughly.

Meanwhile, it's difficult to determine a consensus of opinion on Disney in Long Beach. Some are delighted that Disney--which has yet to build an amusement park that did not make a fortune--would even consider Long Beach.

"It's one of the best things that could happen to the city," said Barrie Perks, director of marketing for the Ramada Renaissance hotel. "It would make Long Beach internationally recognized."

Others already hate it. "It's too big," downtown community activist Larry Davis said. "We have enough problems already with parking and traffic."

If the details are hammered out to the satisfaction of Long Beach, Disney, the port, the California Coastal Commission, the Army Corps of Engineers and other assorted agencies, what could sit on the Long Beach horizon is a fantasy masterpiece centered around a theme park called DisneySea.

Among the prospective attractions might be:

* Mysterious Island, depicting the lost city of Atlantis, with Nemo's Lava Cruiser, a suspended thrill ride that would hurtle through caverns.

* A boardwalk re-creating the nostalgia of the Long Beach oceanfront in its heyday.

* A nearby harbor full of replicas of fabled ships, such as outsized Chinese junks and Egyptian galleys, with rides and restaurants.

* A Grecian village and an Asian water market.

* A Caribbean lagoon where guests could surf, snorkel and wade through man-made tropical reefs filled with fish--or be lowered in a steel cage into a tankful of sharks.

Some observers worry that a 350-acre, $2-billion park might overshadow the city, but development director Shick dismissed such concerns.

"Things don't overwhelm if they are well planned," she said. "Certainly it's large, but by its largeness you assure its success.

"Unless you can create an environment people find exciting, they won't come."

Key features of a Disney resort and theme park in Long Beach:

* DisneySea, a theme park of rides and attractions exploring the "mysteries of the sea."

* Future research center for oceanographic studies.

* Five resort hotels with about 3,900 rooms.

* Four-hundred new marina slips for small boats.

* A five-berth cruise ship port that could offer cruises to Mazatlan, Ensenada, San Francisco, Seattle and Alaska.

Cost: More than $2 billion.

Jobs: 10,000.

Source: Walt Disney Co.


* Now that the Walt Disney Co. has submitted a master plan for a Long Beach resort, a two-year review period begins to allow the Port of Long Beach, the city and its residents to examine the proposal. Formal negotiations could begin as soon as Sept. 12 to determine who will pay for the $2-billion project. The permits alone could take five years to secure, officials said. It could all be moot, however, if Disney chooses Anaheim rather than Long Beach as the site for a theme park. No decision from them is expected until next year.

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