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With Star Wars expansion open, Disney gets permits to launch Marvel land

ANAHEIM, CALIF. -- WEDNESDAY, MAY 17, 2017: Exterior view of the Guardians of the Galaxy Mission Br
Disneyland’s Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout ride in Anaheim is expected to be part of a larger land dedicated to Marvel superheroes.
(Allen J. Schaben / Los Angeles Times)

If you thought Walt Disney Co. would stop and catch its breath after opening its hugely popular Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge expansion last month, think again.

The Disneyland Resort has moved full steam ahead on building next year’s planned expansion, a land at California Adventure Park themed for the superheroes of Marvel comics and movies.

For the record:
10:20 AM, Jun. 12, 2019 An earlier version of this article stated that “A Bug’s Life” was an 11-year-old movie. The film is 21 years old.

The city of Anaheim has approved a handful of building permits for projects such as a bathroom overhaul, a retail outlet, a microbrewery, a character meet-and-greet area, plus improvements to behind-the-scenes buildings

The construction permits assess the value of the work so far at more than $14 million.

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One of the permits, approved Wednesday, allows for a 2,071-square-foot merchandise outlet, with three attached canopies. For comparison, the average home in the Western U.S. is 1,800 square feet, according to census data.

Disney fans have been following the construction through online searches of permits recorded at Anaheim City Hall.

Disney representatives declined to comment on the permits or what type of attractions would be included in the new land, but previous news releases hinted that one attraction may be an interactive ride that lets visitors help Spider-Man fight the forces of evil.

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More details about the land are expected to be released at the Disney celebration known as D23, which is scheduled for Aug. 23 to 25 at the Anaheim Convention Center.

Marvel attractions are also planned to open at Hong Kong Disneyland in 2023, at Walt Disney Studios Park in Paris in 2020 and at the Epcot park in Florida in 2021.

In Anaheim, the construction and planned opening of a new land less than a year after the launch of the $1-billion Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge expansion are unusual in the theme park industry, experts say.

Most theme parks invest in new rides, expansions or overhauls of existing attractions every two or three years to help promote repeat visits from fans.

The Burbank-based media giant may be investing heavily in theme parks to take advantage of a strong economy, a steady demand for travel and Disney’s access to popular intellectual properties — characters and storylines — on which to base new attractions.

Disney acquired Pixar Animation Studios in 2006 for $7.4 billion, followed by the Marvel comic-book empire in 2009 for $4 billion and Lucasfilm — the home of the “Star Wars” franchise — in 2012 for $4 billion.

“They are coming back to capitalize on what’s going to be a huge success with Galaxy’s Edge,” said Dennis Speigel, president of the Ohio-based consulting firm International Theme Park Services. “It’s the right cross and then an uppercut that knocks the market out.”

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A temporary wall surrounds A Bug's Land, which is being converted to a new superhero land.
(Hugo Martin / Los Angeles Times)
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To make room for the new superhero land, crews are demolishing A Bug’s Land, the area in the theme park featuring characters from the 1998 Pixar movie “A Bug’s Life.” The land closed in September, and construction of the new superhero section is happening behind a temporary wall at California Adventure, emblazoned with the words “Stark Industries,” the fictitious L.A.-based business led by Iron Man’s alter ego, Tony Stark.

The expansion will be anchored by Guardians of the Galaxy — Mission: Breakout, an attraction at the California Adventure Park that was overhauled in 2017 to include a Marvel theme.

Speigel says it makes sense for Disney to raze a land based on a 21-year-old movie to make room for an expansion that features characters from films that have been drawing huge crowds to movie theaters in the last few years.

The most recent Marvel film, “Avengers: Endgame,” has surpassed $2 billion in box office receipts globally. Its predecessor, “Avengers: Infinity War,” also took in more than $2 billion globally.

“Marvel has never been hotter than what it is right now and they’ve got to squeeze as much as they can,” he said.

In the last few days, visitors to California Adventure Park have seen scaffolding and a metal structure begin to rise behind the temporary wall.

Disney representatives have not announced a name for the new superhero land, but because of licensing deals that were signed before Disney bought Marvel, the theme park cannot include “Marvel” in the land’s name or in marketing.

hugo.martin@latimes.com

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To read more about the travel and tourism industries, follow @hugomartin on Twitter.


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