Disney developing ‘storyliving’ towns for Californians who want to live surrounded by Disney

A couple takes a selfie at Disneyland
Marta Ortiz of San Diego takes a selfie of her and husband Mike Ortiz at Disneyland in Anaheim in June 2017.
(Gary Coronado / Los Angeles Times)

Walt Disney Co. is extending its brand into real estate, announcing plans Wednesday to develop residential “storyliving” communities around the country where fans will be able to live, make friends and soak in the magic of Disney in their everyday lives.

The first of the developments, dubbed Cotino, will be in built in Riverside County’s Rancho Mirage, near where founder Walt Disney once owned a home, the company said in a news release. Additional locations are also being explored.

“As we prepare to enter our second century, we are developing new and exciting ways to bring the magic of Disney to people wherever they are, expanding storytelling to storyliving,” Disney parks division chairman Josh D’Amaro said in the release.


The new communities, called Storyliving by Disney, will be open to all ages, with some neighborhoods designated for residents 55 years or older. Trained Disney cast members will operate the community associations, and Disney will provide access to “curated experiences” through a club membership, including wellness programming, live entertainment and cooking classes.

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The Cotino community will surround a “24-acre grand oasis featuring clear turquoise water” and include estates, single-family homes and condominiums. An optional club membership will confer access to a waterfront clubhouse, a club-only beach area and recreational water activities.

The project also has approval for a mixed-use district including shopping, dining and entertainment, a beachfront hotel and professionally managed beach park that will be accessible by the public with a day pass. Disney is collaborating with Arizona-based DMB Development, which specializes in planned communities, for the project.

Disney theme park Imagineers will help develop the communities and explore the “richness of each local region to inspire the theme of Storyliving by Disney communities,” Michael Hundgen, executive producer of the company’s theme park research and development arm, said in a statement.

Theme parks expert Martin Lewison, an associate professor of business management at Farmingdale State College, said it made sense for Disney to venture into real estate given the company’s expertise in service, hospitality and resort management.

Lewison, who’s been dubbed “Professor Roller Coaster,” said the demand for all things Disney is “insatiable and inelastic.”


Disney’s previous entries into residential properties include the master-planned town of Celebration, Fla., in the 1990s and high-end homes in resort-style communities near Walt Disney World in Orlando, Fla. The Epcot theme park was also originally conceived by Walt Disney as a company town with commercial and residential areas.

A house in Celebration, a mere 10 minutes from Disney’s massive entertainment resort complex in Orlando, was in such high demand when homes first went on sale in 1995 that a lottery had to be held. The town has suffered from major hiccups, however, dealing with shoddy construction and a brutal murder in 2010.

Len Testa, who currently lives in Celebration and is coauthor of “The Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World,” said the town is distinguished by cohesive building design similar to the Disney theme parks and an active, tight-knit community. Most of the construction problems have been fixed in recent years, he said. There’s no obvious Disney branding, however, and the company has long sold off most of its ownership in the town.

Testa said the preliminary designs for the Rancho Mirage development looked similar to the layout of Celebration but pointed out the town is a two-hour drive from Disneyland.

“Why would anybody who’s a Disney fan go there?” he said.

Testa said he believes the success of the residential communities will come down to the value for money on the homes there after the Disney name initially attracts people’s attention.

“A home that you’re going to be in for 30 years, which is probably the largest investment that most people will ever make in their lives, we’re gonna look at that with an extra little scrutiny beyond buying a T-shirt in the Magic Kingdom,” Testa said.