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Visiting Downtown Disney a Year After Disney Killed Its Hotel Project [Alt-Disney]

Image courtesy city of Anaheim

Across from a revived Earl of Sandwich, the former site of the Rainforest Cafe at Downtown Disney lays in ruins just like the Mayan temples it sought to mimic. Pop-Up Disney! A Mickey Celebration occupies ESPN Zone’s old location until it’s slated to close on Labor Day. AMC Theaters already moved to Anaheim GardenWalk. 

Also missing from Downtown Disney is a luxury hotel that never came. On Aug. 21, 2018, the Mouse House called on Anaheim to kill a pair of subsidy agreements, including $267 million in tax breaks for its planned hotel, in the midst of a living-wage campaign and City Council elections. 

At that time, Disney had already changed the original location of the project and closed Downtown Disney businesses to prepare for construction. Former Anaheim Mayor Tom Tait asked the city attorney if the action had any bearing on the subsidy agreement he had opposed. It prompted 400 layoffs, meaning a new jobs analysis was needed. The city attorney opined that the contract had become null and void. 

“I knew Disney was upset, so I thought they’d fight it,” says Tait. 

Instead, Tait received a call from Disneyland Resort president Josh D’Amaro’s office. D’Amaro and his general counsel met with the mayor and handed him a letter calling for the termination of two subsidy agreements in the interest of ending political acrimony between Disney and Anaheim. “I stuck out my hand and said, ‘Thank you’ for doing the right thing,” Tait recalls. The meeting ended promptly afterward.

Disney also faced the prospect of losing a living-wage campaign aimed at resort-area corporations that had “tax rebate” agreements. With the termination of the hotel subsidy and also a policy promising refunds for any potential gate tax levied against Disney, the city later exempted the company from the wage law that passed. 

Tait feels he helped Anaheim save $267 million. He also may have prevented Downtown Disney, a development he voted for in 1996 as a councilman, from becoming a tourist fortress. 

“Downtown Disney was supposed to be for the community,” he says. “Disney’s hotel plans would’ve made it more difficult for the public to get to. That wasn’t the original intent back in ’96.” 

Long live Earl of Sandwich!