Downtown Disney to Co-Opt High-End Shopping and Go Head to Head With Mall at Millenia and Outlet Malls?

Supposed leaked documents of what Downtown Disney will become.

By Ken Storey

Back on February 18, 2013 I shared a rumor with you that Downtown Disney was about to be transformed into a completely new shopping complex. The plans that were leaked called for a new parking structure, bridges, and an entirely new shopping district in what is now the Pleasure Island surface parking area. A few days before that I shared another rumor that Pollo Campero will be shutting down soon. That rumor involved Disney chefs holed up in a secret kitchen making dishes for a new tex-mex concept.

The message board at seems to have now released quite a bit more information since those last updates. WDW News Today has also released what looks to be the actual renderings of the Disney Springs project.

To understand what this project is we first have to do a bit of a history lesson. The “Lake Buena Vista Shopping Village,” as it was originally called, was opened on March 22, 1975, just three and a half years after Magic Kingdom opened. What was originally planned as more of an attraction with working craftspeople making candles, pottery, and candy the ‘shopping village’ had more of a small town center. Included in the original stores were a wine cellar, tobacco shop, pharmacy, and a pet store. In 1977 the Empress Lily Riverboat opened by which time the village had already begun to evolve more into a shopping complex from the original town square concept. Also in 1977 the name was changed to “Walt Disney World Village.”

While Disney was still trying to figure out what to do with its shopping village in downtown Orlando developer Bob Snow was already opening Church Street Station, downtown’s first major attempt at attracting the tourist who were now flocking to the area to visit the recently opened Walt Disney World. Rosie O’Grady’s opened in 1974 and Cheyenne Saloon opened in 1982. By 1985 Church Street Station was deemed a huge success attracting 1.7million visitors, making it the fourth-largest tourist attraction in the state of Florida (#1 Magic Kingdom, #2 SeaWorld, #3 Busch Gardens). Orlando now has about this many visitors during a single busy week.

The year after Church Street Station becomes the fourth biggest attraction in the state Disney World announced their own entertainment complex, Pleasure Island, to compete. That same year, 1986, the Walt Disney World Village introduced its first major festival, the Annual Village Wine Festival, which is the precursor to the EPCOT Food and Wine Festival. 1986 also saw the introduction of Orlando’s first tourist focused shopping complex off property when The Florida Mall opens.

Pleasure Island opened in 1989 on the same day as Disney World’s third theme park, Disney-MGM Studios, the same year that Bob Snow sells the remainder of his interest in Church Street Station. 1990 Orlando gets its first true outlet mall when the 600,000sq ft two mall Belz Factory Outlet World opens at the northern end of I-Drive.

Throughout the early 90’s under the leadership of Michael Eisner Walt Disney World grows rapidly. Between 1990 and 1995 twelve new hotels, a water park, a wedding pavilion, and a Indy Racing speedway all open at the resort complex. In 1994 one of the first major themed dinning opened at Walt Disney World Village when the Planet Hollywood opened. In 1995 the announcement of the next major addition to the shopping and entertainment complex also brought the now familiar name ‘Downtown Disney.’ The newly announced addition, WestSide, would bring in national retail to the complex along with new entertainment including Cirque Du Soleil. The new addition, along with an update to the AMC Theaters and Mickey’s Character Shop, which turned into the gigantic World of Disney shop, all opened on September 7, 1997. The next year Church Street Station records losses greater than $1million and attracts just over a 500,000 visitors.

In 1999, two years after this most recent major expansion of Downtown Disney, saw new competition when Universal Studio’s opens CityWalk that is used as a gateway to both their pre-existing Universal Studio’s theme park and the newly opened Islands of Adventure theme park. CityWalk uses national brands almost exclusively reserving only one story to sell Universal Orlando merchandise.

Three years later the next major step in Orlando’s retail history happens when high end luxury merchants open for the first time in the city when the Mall at Millenia opens. Half of all retailers in the new Mall at Millenia were new to the Orlando market. All three of the mall’s anchors; Macy’s, Neiman Marcus, and Bloomingdale’s, were brand new to the Orlando market when they opened at Mall at Millenia in 2002. Florida Mall also introduced higher end retailers between 2000 and 2002 with a massive expansion (the loop area on the southeast end of the mall). During this time period Nordstrom and Lord and Taylor both opened in the mall, both were new to the Orlando market.

2007 (the same year the Orlando lost its only Lord and Taylor) brought even more high end retail to Orlando when the Belz Factory Outlet World underwent a major renovation to become what is now known as the Orlando Premium Outlet’s International Drive.

In 2012 Mall at Millenia who has kept the high end retail environment it opened with was ranked at the 10th ‘most productive’ shopping center in the world with an average of $1,25 sales per square foot.

Many of these sales are coming from Orlando’s newest golden tourist group, Brazilians, who on average spend between $300 and $500 per person on shopping while visiting Florida. Needless to say Disney wants in on these sales numbers. Brazilians come here looking for American and European brands along with electronics that have a large import taxes back in Brazil. These tourists aren’t here just for plush Mickeys.

It has been 16 years since a major remodel or addition to Downtown Disney and almost all of the shopping and entertainment complex, with WestSide being the sole exception, doesn’t offer what these new golden tourists want. That is why most say Disney is ready to do a complete and major remodel of Downtown Disney transforming it into Disney Springs. Just like how Disney transformed the original shopping complex into something new when Church Street Station was proven as a successful concept now Disney looks to be transforming the complex into a high(er) end shopping destination.

Disney Springs will be broken into four major themed areas. The former Marketplace and Pleasure Island areas will be receiving a major remodel while WestSide will only receive a few new buildings but no major remolding, like I said this area is the one section that actually already offers what these tourists want. 

One of the 'leaked' maps of Disney Springs that WDWNewsToday published. Make sure to visit his story to see color renderings and map descriptions.
The new theme will that of a community that has grown around one of Florida’s famous springs. WestSide will feature a mix of pioneer Florida and postwar prosperity architectural styling.

Downtown Disney Marketplace will be known as The Village Marketplace and will take on the look of a upscale neighborhood with native plants throughout. A bridge will connect from near the newly remodeled Rainforest CafĂ© to near where the Lego Imagination Center is. Water features, shade trees, native plants will be featured throughout. 

More supposed leaked plans of the new Disney Springs
Pleasure Island and the new area where the current parking lot are will feature more fountains, covered walkways, and shade trees. The area will be centered around the ‘springs’ that is the small river area separating Pleasure Island from the current parking area. The buildings will feature two story areas and those who’ve supposedly seen the plans point out that this area has lots of escalators. Outdoor amphitheaters near where Paradiso is are also in the rumored plans. 

The boats connecting Downtown Disney to the resorts nearby will also be updated and the ‘Friendship Boats’ that are used at EPCOT will be used here as well, allowing for more comfortable journeys in inclement or extreme weather.

Disney Springs will bring a new classiness to Walt Disney World with a look that is more Winter Park, Florida than Lake Buena Vista, Florida.

A supposed leaked photo of a slide that has the brands for the new development includes at least a dozen new retail brands that will be brand new to the Orlando market; some of the stores will be the first time for the brand in all of the Americas. The photo is posted on the WDWMagic forum by a member known as Raven, who has consistently been incredibly accurate with numerous information involving Disney projects well before their official announcements.

Not on the leaked slide but rumored is a World of Coca Cola. Now I have heard rumors quite a while ago of discussions of a ‘World of Coca Cola’ style attraction replacing DisneyQuest but those rumors have yet to be connected to these new rumors so it’s still too early to say that is where the World of Coke is going if it is confirmed for Disney Springs. American Girl Place is also expected to open a flagship location in the new development. Japanese brands Superdry and Uniqlo are listed as is London based Topshop/Topman. Bershka is listed; though owned by Zara the Spanish chain has no locations in the United States. Other brands such as Kiehl’s (which recently opened at Mall at Millenia), Paul Frank, Anthropology, Rugby, Dior, Brooks Brothers, MAC, Cole Haan, Janie and Jack, and Coach are also on the slide. 

On the food side sits few themed restaurants and more focused on quality. Food Network has long been rumored to be going into the former 8trax location on Pleasure Island. The leaked plans include a Food Network logo on the restaurant slide. Also is Shake Shack, a high quality fast casual brand that has outlets in New York and South Beach. (We went there will do our The Daily City D0es Miami back in December, 2012 and were impressed with the food and service.) Argo Tea is a popular tea shop from Chicago; this would be their first outlet in the southeast. Iron Chef Morimoto would also have his own restaurant in the mix, providing Disney Springs with an answer for Emeril’s found over at CityWalk. Powell’s Sweet Shop, a California based candy store chain, that currently only has locations in California (15 locations) and one location in Idaho and Oregon. Also on the list is the Edison, one of L.A.’s premier nightclub concepts. In fact the restaurant list has a definite California vibe to it. Trader Sam’s, a tiki room meets Adventure’s Club concept found at the Disneyland Hotel, is also on the list. The California connection might also help explain why the former Disneyland Resort president was recently promoted to oversee Walt Disney World.

Other brands are found on the restaurant list that could either be placeholder names with either real or blue sky projects attached to them or they could be actual brands the Disney plans to introduce. The brands in question include ‘Disney Burger,’ ‘Disney Character Dining,’ ‘Wine Bar,’ ‘Italian Restaurant,’ and ‘Disney Bakery.’ One brand ‘Walt’s Place’ could be a new concept or the introduction to the Americas of the fine dining restaurant within Disneyland Paris named ‘Walt’s.’ There is also an elevated outdoor bar area that would go in above the walkway in the WestSide. The bar area would be themed like an old rail track that has been updated. 

Leaked rendering of what Planet Hollywood is rumored to look like.
There is some debate on what will happen to Planet Hollywood but the globe style of the building looks to be leaving. The space is rumored to be changing into something called ‘The Observatory’ or ‘The Observatory at Planet Hollywood.’ This aligns with others rumors that have been floating around town of Planet Hollywood leaving Downtown Disney for a new home at the Orlando Eye development on I-Drive where the Planet Hollywood Hotel is rumored to be going. The Observatory would be a fresher, higher quality experience than Planet Hollywood, more in line with owner Robert Earl’s other concept (also from California) Mixology. His Planet Dailies brand that share a space with Mixology in L.A. maybe also coming to Orlando with a rumored location at the Orlando Eye development. 

The L.A. Mixology is located within the famous shopping and entertainment complex known as The Grove (it’s where the television show Extra is filmed, so watch that if you want to get a feel of the development). Disney Springs seems like it drew direct inspiration from The Grove and its sister development The Americana at Brand. Architecture firm Elkus| Manfredi is the rumored firm working on the Disney Springs project. They also developed Disneyland California’s Downtown Disney. They also did The Grove and The Americana at Brand so that may be why the leaked documents of Disney Springs has such a resemblance to those projects.

Both The Americana at Brand and The Grove feature red trolleys. There were rumors before of such a trolley coming to Downtown Disney. The leaked plans do not show a trolley system but these might not be the only potential plans for the development. Back on the forum where most of this information is coming from Raven, the source of the leaked brand slides, stated that there are actually several variations of the final plans still in the works, at least 5 different plans, with at least two of them including trolley systems. The leaked plans also show no I-4 exit ramp that rumored to be coming but Raven says that some of the plans also include this ramp. The flyover in front of Downtown Disney is shown in the plans though.  Hopefully this flyover will help alleviate some of the traffic issues that have plagued this section of Walt Disney World.

Former rumors also included a nightly fountain show of some type, a scaled down version of The World of Color show found at California Adventure in California. The hot air balloon ride looks to be staying and boat rentals look to be more prominent in the new plan. The most interesting part of this is that within the rumors there seems to be a sense that this is only Phase 1 with even more being planned for the years to come, a thought that I covered on here back in the February 18th story. The rumors seem to point to more surface parking being converted to retail space if the redevelopment succeeds. Overall the plan seems like an excellent way to address that issue of theme that breaks down as guest at the current Downtown Disney walk from one area to another. The plan also addresses the guest flow that is a major issue ever since WestSide opened. And unlike Hyperion Wharf this plan does seem to address a new to Disney theme, though it does tie-in well with Saratoga Springs across the lake and even with Port Orleans and Old Key West resorts that are a short boat trip away.

Again though these are still nothing but rumors and Disney has been known to cancel plans once the rumors are leaked so while this does seem to be getting some major traction until Disney releases an official announcement remember to take all of this with a bit of skepticism. on Facebook on Pinterest on twitter on Instagram