Disney World makes land grab for additional resort development

wdw-resport-property-map

A few weeks ago, we went over some of the possible scenarios for expansion at Disney’s Hollywood Studios along with completion of on-going and announced projects (Part 1 and Part 2 if you missed it). Yesterday, news dropped of a deal that will make it all possible.

What we didn’t mention in those posts was a rumored mega-land purchase by Disney that some fans were saying was a clear sign of a fifth gate being built. I didn’t want to breath life into any crazy rumors like that, so I ended up not posting that story. However, events have changed my mind.

As Walt Disney said about building in Florida, Disney has the blessing of space. 43 square miles is just a little larger than the city of San Francisco. But what you may not realize is that quite a bit of that area is dedicated to wetlands and conservation. Most of the resort that isn’t are already developed is zoned for conservation (see map below).

That’s not a show stopper for future development, but the way Florida works is, you have to buy some land that’s a candidate to be returned to conservation wetlands elsewhere and then you have permission to make a change on the land you own. It’s not a one to one ratio either. Usually you have to buy a lot more land than you get to convert.

Local news is now confirming that Disney recently purchased land in the former Mira Lago development. The land in Osceola and Polk counties was once slated for development, but is now about 3,000 acres that Disney can switch to conservation. Giving Disney the leverage it needs to petition the EPA to have 350 non-contiguous acres of the Walt Disney World resort converted from conservation to resort or theme park development.

To give you an idea of what 350 acres is like, Magic Kingdom itself is about 107 acres, but Disney’s Animal Kingdom is about 500. So, if Disney were to combine this area with the plot of land between the TTC and Coronado Springs already reserved for additional development, you could definitely fit a 5th gate in there, along with some hotels and more.

Of course, a fifth gate isn’t a given. The 350 acres doesn’t have to be contiguous. It could be used here and there, to add a few much needed acres to Disney’s Hollywood Studios (it will need more parking and more space for Star Wars Land), add a few areas for that new Magic Kingdom area resort that’s been rumored, or maybe to build that off ramp from the I4 to the new Disney Springs Parking garage.

Here’s a closer look at a Reedy Creek Water District Map that was created during land use planning for 2020. As you can see, if Disney wanted to assemble a large enough area of land to build a fifth gate, they’d have to take advantage of at least some of that 350 acres to convert some of that dark green into light green.

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Although that spot on the other side of the 429, by Flamingo Crossings, does look interesting, it’s more likely they’ll build hotels, shopping and dining there. Not a fifth gate so far from the rest of the resort’s infrastructure.

Disney already owns about 12,000 acres of wetlands, most of which are in the Disney Wilderness Preserve south of Walt Disney World in the Kissimmee Lakes area. The preserve is managed by the Nature Conservancy, but parts of it are open to the public for nature watching, hiking, and the like. I’ll be keeping an eye to see if Disney asks the Nature Conservancy to step in and help managed these new wetlands as well.

So, now it’s time to put on your Imagineer’s cap. What would you do with so much new land to build on at Walt Disney World?

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11 thoughts on “Disney World makes land grab for additional resort development

  1. Charles

    Speculating is fun, and it costs us nothing!
    At Hollywood studios, if they relocate the large parking lot that’s just east of the Indiana Jones stunt show (to the dark green conservation area further east (but still adjacent to the rest of the parking lot)…AND relocate some backstage buildings, they’d have a large area immediately behind Star Tours to continue a Star Wars section.
    Heck, if they played their cards right, the could continue the desert theme on the backside the IJSS and mesh it into Star Wars backdrop (or maybe even introduce a version of the Indiana Jones Adventure ride).
    Of the many things you can count on when visiting Disney World…there’ll be construction…SOMEWHERE!
    We’ll just have to wait & see!

  2. danlb_2000

    Great post! I have seen a number of sites post about this land purchase and quite a few of them have gotten the facts wrong despite the fact that they are easily verified in the public records, you on the other hand have gotten them right. I also like you speculation as to where a 5th gate would go IF they decide to build one. The site by Flamingo Crossing never made sense to me since Disney is allowing a bunch of low end third party hotels to be built at FC, and I can’t see them doing this if they plan to build a new theme park right next door.

  3. Tom

    Did someone say speculate?….Looooove to speculate :)
    IF it’s a 5th-park, here’s my humble opinions:
    Safest Bet: “Pixar Studios”
    A themepark solely devoted to Pixar has been a long time coming, and the company has more than enough intellectual properties for rides, meet and greets, and park landmarks.

    Very very possible: “All the new stuff Kingdom”
    A park solely devoted to Star Wars, Marvel, and whatever else Disney is going to purchase over the next few years that doesn’t fit in any existing park. Makes sense seeing how as Marvel and Star Wars will probably be Disney biggest moneymakers over the next decade, and it would tap into the young teen boy market that Universal seems to have a monopoly on at the moment.

    My personal dream but no way in hell: “Mickey’s world(in the literal-est sense)”
    Imagine a smaller park than the other 4, there may or may not be any rides, and while it would have landmarks, certainly nothing as big as MK’s castle. Instead it would be all about the ambiance, about walking through and being a part of something, about being transported to a world where Mickey “really” lives, ala a giant Toontown of sorts. Everything, all the infrastructure, would not be catered towards modern human architecture and needs like the other parks naturally have to be; but rather to that surreal, imaginary world. The roads, the grass, the trees, the buildings, the bathrooms, the lights, the stores, all built around things only seen in cartoons and films. And the key(AND THIS IS WHAT MAKES IT WORK), all the employees working at this park, from the ticket-puncher, to bag checker, to line holder, would be “in costume/in character”. Sure you would have the big names like Mickey and Minnie out and about, but most would be the nameless Cowbella types. And while these employees/characters are obviously ‘working’ in the park, they’d act and interact like they are just living life. Walking around, rubbing shoulders with us, buying stuff, doing the same things we are doing at the park. Think of some of the scenes in Roger Rabbit and you’ll have a good idea about it. And I say this because as magical as disney world parks are, you realize sometimes that it’s still a themepark with the parking, the lines, the gates, the wait times, the bag checks, etc, etc. But imagine a little plot of land, less than half the land of MK, where all the characters ‘really lived’. :) I imagine it like walking down Main Street MK, and I’ve got what like a hundred people all around me walking too, but now imagine 40% of those people are various cartoon characters from different animation ages. They are talking and interacting and you’re there with them. It would be the simplest, cheapest, smallest park to build. Very little if any rides or overt thrills needed, and I still think people would pay a killing just to be around that. With the park’s backstory being: this is the park where all the characters go back to after their 9-5 workday at the other 4-Disney parks are over.

    Haha, told you not to let me speculate, i could go on like this forever! lol

  4. Andrew

    my understanding was that the area currently reserved for conservation can be developed at any point they see fit. It was part of a larger deal that was made. Jim Hill just released a podcast going over this exact topic.

  5. Christie

    If there was to be a fifth park, I don’t think it would be a full-on park. There’s been rumors off and on over the years about a boutique park, like Discovery Cove for SeaWorld. A much more expensive park for fewer people with a more personalized touch. As Disney continues to move into more upscale offerings at WDW over stuff for everyone, I could totally see a smaller boutique park being an option. It would also probably be cheaper and easier to pass off to investors because Disney could charge lots more.

  6. Geoff

    No idea what the the theme would be, but it should be more of a thrill park like Island of Adventure. It’s really the one thing Disney doesn’t have – a large thrill park to draw in the teen and early 20 year olds that aren’t as much into the rest of the Disney World.

    If any of them are listening… A Hoth snowspeeder roller coaster centered around a giant AT-AT would be fantastic. Imagine doing corkscrews or loops through the legs of one of those things? A coaster based on the Monsters inc door ride into the warehouse would be fun too. And it might just be worth it to pay off Universal to get an Avengers ride or two on the east coast

  7. Disney Mike

    While I’d love to see “Yesterland” as a fifth gate, with all the old rides recreated there (especially Horizons and World of Motion, but also Mission to Mars, 20,000 Leagues, Mr. Toad, Dreamflight, and America the Beautiful CircleVision 360), I know that’s not going to happen.

    I agree that a Pixar-themed park would make perfect sense, allowing Disney to really delve into all the worlds of the Pixar universe (and using attractions that have already been developed in California and Paris). But, with the rumored Pixar expansion at DHS, it seems unlikely that they would build a park based entirely around Pixar if quite a bit of Pixar stuff was added to DHS. Same for Star Wars.

    Honestly, an entire Star Wars theme park would be the coolest thing to ever be built, and it would make the most sense from a marketing standpoint, as Star Wars is such a huge brand. Maybe a Lucasfilm park, that could include the Indiana Jones universe.

  8. Dave

    Remember, a lot of the land designated as wetlands/preserve on WDW property is unsutable for building on in the first place, however, I am sure that they could find a few spots on property large enough. Hope it happens.

  9. Amber

    I like Geoff’s idea of how not having a park with only thrills like Islands of Adventures at Universal Studios. That would be very intriguing to me because I love Disney World and Universal however Disney World has never have done a park that has thrills. I would love to see that. I like what I’m imagining which the park could still be a Disney one but has only thrill rides. It’s like doing the park for high thrillers.

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