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Planned Disneyland expansion in California clears major hurdle

FILE PHOTO: Sleeping Beauty Castle is pictured at dusk at Disneyland Park in Anaheim

By Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine

(Reuters) - Plans to expand the Disneyland Resort cleared a major hurdle Wednesday, as local officials endorsed a new blueprint governing the development of Walt Disney's Southern California theme parks over the next 40 years.

The Anaheim city council approved a plan, called DisneylandForward, that one researcher estimated would create as many as 4,520 construction jobs per year of development and an additional 26,764 parks-related positions over the coming decades.

A second procedural council vote, to consider zoning changes, revisions in the city's development agreement with Disney and an analysis of environmental impacts, is scheduled for May 7. If adopted, the changes would take effect after 30 days, clearing the way for Disney to invest a minimum of $1.9 billion in new theme park experiences and lodging over the next decade.

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Parks have become a reliable profit engine for Disney and have helped cushion losses in the Disney+ streaming business, which is expected to become profitable by September. The company last year announced it would deepen its investment in its parks, and double the capacity of its cruise line, committing $60 billion over the next decade.

Disneyland, the company's first theme park, opened in 1955. As it grew in popularity, the city of Anaheim approved plans that would govern its growth, creating zones designated for specific types of developments.

In 2021, Disney submitted a plan, dubbed DisneylandForward, which would give the company flexibility in how it could develop its 490-acre California property. Disney is looking to blend hotels, shops and attractions within the same themed world, as it has in Fantasy Springs, which opens June 6 at Tokyo DisneySea Park.

TELLING 'NEW STORIES'

The proposal calls for allowing theme park attractions

alongside hotels on the west side of Disneyland Drive and

theme park attractions alongside new shopping, dining and entertainment to the southeast on what is today the Toy Story Parking Area.

Dozens of members of the public addressed the council before the vote. Many voiced enthusiastic support for the job opportunities and revenue they expected the expansion to bring to the area. Some local residents, however, said they would be harmed by increased traffic and noise and the conversion of a public road known as Magic Way into a pedestrian walkway.

"A project like DisneylandForward will only further exacerbate the current problems," said Anaheim resident Trangdai Glassey. "To disregard the human costs from a project of this scope is unthinkable."

The company has not said what attractions and amenities it plans to add in California, though it has pointed to attractions found elsewhere, such as the new World of Frozen, where guests can experience the fictional world of Arendelle at Hong Kong Disneyland, or the "mammalian metropolis" of Zootopia at Shanghai Disneyland.

"With each new experience taking three to five years to come to fruition, DisneylandForward is an urgent need so we can determine what new stories could be told at The Happiest Place on Earth,” Disneyland Resort President Ken Potrock wrote in an opinion piece that appeared in the Orange County Register.

(Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Additional reporting by Maria Ponnezhath in Bengaluru; Editing by Sharon Singleton)