Wednesday, September 23, 2009
Do you remember the "Disneyland Australia" rumor we heard more than a year and a half ago in February 2008? At that time, Disney denied that they had plans for an Australian theme park, but you know what? finally, the Disneyland Australia project was not a rumor or a mirage, but was true.
Let's go back in time to remember the whole story. On February 27th, 2008 Jano Gibson, a Sydney Morning Herald journalist, wrote this article:
WHITE BAY, NEW SOUTH WALES, AU -- The Walt Disney Company has been eyeing off a prime piece of real estate on Sydney Harbour as it seeks to expand its global empire of theme parks and resorts.
The State Government has confirmed Disney recently held unsolicited discussions with the Dept of State and Regional Development about the redevelopment of White Bay, a working port next to the Anzac Bridge.
A spokesman for the Minister for State Development, Ian Macdonald, would not elaborate on what was proposed during the discussions, saying only that they took place in the past few months and had been discontinued.
Disney, which has 11 theme parks, 8 resorts and a cruise line across 3 continents, was one of a number of unnamed companies that have approached the Government with unsolicited proposals for the site, the spokesman said.
There were no "active concepts" at present, he said.
A spokesman for Disney, John Nicoletti, said his company was constantly exploring opportunities to grow. "As part of that process, we have conversations with lots of entities," he said. "And, while Australia is an attractive market, at this time we have no plans for this region."
He would not comment on what Disney had envisioned for the White Bay site, including whether it was for a Disneyland theme park, a Disney resort or some other venture.
The Government has established the Bays Precinct Taskforce to formulate a development strategy for White Bay, Glebe Island, Blackwattle Bay and Rozelle Bay.
Details are expected to be released when the sub-regional strategy for Sydney's inner west goes on display this year.
The executive director of the Sydney Chamber of Commerce, Patricia Forsythe, said a Disneyland at White Bay would be a wonderful opportunity for Sydney. "It is a spectacular site worthy of an iconic development," she said.
She said a world-class arts facility would also be suitable.
The secretary of the White Bay Precinct Committee, Christina Ritchie, said locals must have a say on the site's development. She could not comment on the Disney discussion without more detail".
Personally, when I heard that news back in 2008, I thought it was a rumor. And, although I wish all of my Australian D&M readers to have a Magic Kingdom close to their homes as soon as possible, I thought that something was missing to make the project viable: not enough people living in Australia, and not enough tourists visiting the country.
The entire country of Australia has 21 million people and there are probably around 5 million tourists coming in the country each year. Most of them are coming from New Zealand and they could be interested by a Disney theme park as they don't have another one nearby. But for Japanese or British tourists, who are the other biggest tourists category visiting Australia, it's different. Japanese have two great Disney theme parks in their country (TDL and TDS) and the British have a great one just two hours from London (Disneyland Paris). Maybe they'd be counting on a heavy influx of other tourists from Asia, but why would they trek all the way to Disneyland Australia when they could just visit Disneyland in Hong Kong or Tokyo?
Also, Australia indeed has 21 million people, but considering that a Disney theme park needs at least 8 million visitors per year to have good financial results, I thought we could decide that there was not the required number of people/tourists to build a Disneyland in Australia, and that it was only a rumor.
And then last week Randy, a faithful Disney and more reader, sent me a link with these words: "Disneyland Australia? Have a look at this web site". Needless to say, I rushed to the link, and what a surprise it was.
This is the site of a company called JPI, with offices in many countries and two in Australia, including one called JPI Imagineering! But it's on their "most innovative projects" page that we can find the confirmation of the Disneyland Australia project, consisting of the map below and this description: "Nominated by Walt Disney Attractions, we were appointed by the Star Land Company, the Australian Government JV company, as the masterplanners and concept design architects for the proposed Disneyland Australia set within the $2.7 billion Star Land Project located on the Gold Coast Highway and rail-link between Brisbane and the Gold Coast in South-East Queensland."
Strangely, apart from a "hidden Mickey" in the map, it doesn't really look like a Disney park blue-print. Maybe the map includes other projects part of this $2.7 billion Star Land project, but it's on another page of the web site that I found what I was looking for: the first and only rendering available of a Disneyland Australia project. I should even say a Disneyland Australia Resort, as the artwork shows many hotels around a lake. You can see in the background one hotel with a kind of "Grand Floridian" architecture - and, always in the background, the castle lights in the sky. Sure, we would prefer to have a more detailed artwork of the theme park itself, but for now that's all that's available!
Over this artwork, are these words: "In association with the Harrison Price Company which was appointed at the direction of Walt Disney Attractions, we undertook the following on behalf of the Victorian and Queensland Governments:
* Site assessments
* Attendance, seasonality
* Per cap spends and economic profile including warranted capital costs
* Support infrastructure requirements
* Size and areas including required transport capacity"
So, yes, I think we can finally say that this Disneyland Australia was not a rumor or a mirage. As for Disney saying that "at this time we have no plans for this region," let's say that it's half-true. There is no doubt that Shanghaî Disneyland is the top priority for the company, but to say that they never had plans in Australia...well, um, we're going to be kind and say that it was a perfect corporate answer.
Many thanks to Nate Walz for the editing of the text.
Pictures: copyright JPI - Disney
The two first pictures/logos are my own creation, but they're copyright Disney
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