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How Sydney almost got a Disney Resort

How Sydney almost got a Disney Resort
May 24, 2016

With the Australian Amusement, Leisure and Recreation Association (AALARA) holding its annual conference in Sydney for the first time in 15 years this week, Australasian Leisure Management reveals that in 2007/08 the Walt Disney Company proposed the building of a Disney Resort on Sydney Harbour.

While there has been speculation that Disney had previously planned attractions on the Sunshine Coast and in North Queensland, the US-based entertainment giant was serious about developing prime waterfront land around Sydney’s White Bay and Glebe Island.

Glossy proposal documents for what was called ‘Disney Wharf at Sydney Harbour’ were circulated to the then NSW Government, who treated the proposal with utmost secrecy, even referring to the project by a special code name inside the state government, and flew under the radar.

The waterfront attraction was a grand vision, incorporating classic Disney theme park elements, along with themed hotels, a marina and ferry wharf, two new light-rail stations, a retail space, an entertainment quarter and a residential development.

The old White Bay power station was to have been reborn as a design studio and arts centre, Glebe Island would have blossomed into ‘Fantasia Gardens’ with hedges cut in the shape of Disney characters, and just a short stroll away would have been what the designers termed a “high-energy NY theatre-style district”.

There would have been a yacht club family resort and ‘upscale’ residential developments in Disney Village on the northern end of White Bay, together with a Disney town centre (billed as offering ‘prime waterfront office space’) and a Disney University and hospitality school.

‘Project Lester’, as it was code named, was described as “an integrated Disney destination to live, work, play and learn” with the promoters promising it would enhance real estate values on the site itself and in the immediate neighbourhood.

The company said the proposed harbourside complex would “refresh the city’s tourism offerings” and draw patrons from “all over Australia and the world”.

Remarkably, the reaction from NSW’s then Labor administration was mixed, with Labor Party politicians fearing a backlash from voters in surrounding Labor-held parliamentary seats.

Among ministers, the most enthusiastic was the now-disgraced Ian Macdonald, who held the state development portfolio. Then NSW Premier Morris Iemma and then NSW Treasurer Michael Costa were involved in high-level talks on the project but their interest waned as the scale of infrastructure investment expected by Disney became apparent.

The development would have required at least $500 million investment in transport infrastructure while others feard the plan was really a development proposal dressed up as an attraction.

One source who looked closely at the project commented “it was a fabulous site, close to the city, and instead of more million-dollar apartments, we thought why not look at something potentially more interesting.

“But in the end, it was difficult to get detailed proposals from them in writing, and there was always doubt over whether it could work.”

A spokeswoman for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts said the company was always looking to grow its business and “as part of that process, we have conversations with many different entities”.

During the construction of the new International Convention Centre Sydney (ICC Sydney) the site has been home to Glebe Island Expo temporary exhibition venue.

It is also a cruise passenger terminal.

Images: Disney Resorts (top and below), and the White Bay and Glebe Island site proposed for the Disney attraction.

23rd May 2016 - DALIAN WANDA HEAD SLAMS DISNEY SHANGHAI RESORT

20th May 2016 - LUNA PARK SYDNEY READY FOR 2016 AALARA CONFERENCE

12th December 2015 - 30TH ANNIVERSARY OF OPENING OF AUSTRALIA’S WONDERLAND

11th May 2013 - GLEBE ISLAND EXPO GETS PLANNING APPROVAL

18th March 2008 - DISNEY CONSIDERS SYDNEY DEVELOPMENT


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The news we publish at www.ausleisure.com.au is independent, credible (we hope) and free for you to access, with no pay walls and no annoying pop-up ads.

However, as an independent publisher, can we ask for you to support us by subscribing to the printed Australasian Leisure Management magazine - if you don't already do so.

Published bi-monthly since 1997, the printed Australasian Leisure Management differs from this website in that it publishes longer, in-depth and analytical features covering aquatics, attractions, entertainment, events, fitness, parks, recreation, sport, tourism and venues management.

Subscriptions cost just $90 a year.

Click here to subscribe.

 


Asking a small favour
We hope that you value the news that we publish so while you're here can we ask for your support?

The news we publish at www.ausleisure.com.au is independent, credible (we hope) and free for you to access, with no pay walls and no annoying pop-up ads.

However, as an independent publisher, can we ask for you to support us by subscribing to the printed Australasian Leisure Management magazine - if you don't already do so.

Published bi-monthly since 1997, the printed Australasian Leisure Management differs from this website in that it publishes longer, in-depth and analytical features covering aquatics, attractions, entertainment, events, fitness, parks, recreation, sport, tourism and venues management.

Subscriptions cost just $90 a year.

Click here to subscribe.

 

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