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Disney has not announced very much with its "official" press release for the Downtown Disney transformation. There is, though, nice concept art at the end of this story. Click on the last slide to get a really good feel for what Disney has planned.

The local newspaper has a better write-up and more drawings for your consideration:

Here is a quick summary of what is coming:

Disney Springs, inspired by life in the early 1900s, will break down into four "neighborhoods," said Kathy Mangum, executive producer with Walt Disney Imagineering. Two — The Landing and Town Center — are planned in the space where Pleasure Island nightclubs operated until 2008.

Most of the new stores will be in Town Center, she said, and the restaurants in the Landing will have waterfront views.

The other two neighborhoods roughly correspond with current Downtown Disney districts: West Side, home of Cirque du Soleil, and The Marketplace, which will have an expanded World of Disney store. A pedestrian causeway over the water will connect the Rainforest Cafe end of Marketplace with the middle of the complex and ease traffic flow of guests, Mangum said.

There are a number of impressive changes. The two story core will be built on land that is currently driveways and parking. There should be no shoehorn effect because there is lots of land to work with here. The outdoor mall concept, which is popular in Florida, will finally bring a significant shopping area to Disney World. The small lake in the Town Center, behind the two-story shopping area, creates a new themed hub that will give the area what most massive shopping areas in Orlando lack -- a sense of open space.

Also, one of the new parking structures will take traffic right off I-4. That will help keep the increased traffic this area will attract off of existing WDW roads. There is no indication if the 4,000 or 2,000 car garage will get this direct-to-Disney-Springs treatment.

How this area incorporates or (hopefully) destroys today's follow-the-path structure will be interesting. The massive size and how it is themed might make those visiting Universal's CityWalk feel underwhelmed after seeing Disney Spring. Universal's lack of land will really show and allow Disney to have its own Harry Potter moment where it gets to be the best in a very good way. Here is a link to a CityWalk map:

A few negative things stick out in my mind. While the outdoor mall concept is hot, for those of us who live here, it is a rainy and windy day nightmare. Disney should consider a glass covering for the two story area. The view of the Disney Store from the street will be forever blocked by the concrete parking structure. The sight of Tinker at night when everything else is closed will be missed. The sole pedestrian walkway might create a dead zone between the Rainforest Cafe and the Disney Store. And, a people mover doesn't look like it will get designed in.

The press is unhappy about the parking structures (with the bolding being mine):

Of all the additions Walt Disney World will make during the next few years as it transforms its Downtown Disney shopping district into the larger "Disney Springs," none will be more important than a pair of parking garages.

The twin garages, to be built at opposite ends of the 120-acre retail complex, will have a combined 6,000 spaces — and, Disney hopes, will ease complaints from guests sick of hunting for places to park their cars.

But Disney doesn't plan to pay for the garages itself. The giant resort will instead have its personal government, Reedy Creek Improvement District, pick up the estimated $85 million tab.

The arrangement is likely to save Disney — and cost Florida and federal taxpayers — millions of dollars. Reedy Creek, unlike Disney, can finance the garages with tax-free bonds. And Reedy Creek, unlike Disney, does not have to pay sales tax on the materials used to build them.

Critics accuse the Walt Disney Co., which earned a company record $5.7 billion in profit last year, of exploiting its captive government.

"Reedy Creek's ability to issue tax-free bonds and avoid paying sales taxes on construction materials gives the Disney Co. a competitive advantage over other theme parks and resorts in Florida," said Rick Foglesong, a political-science professor at Rollins College in Winter Park.

Disney defends the move. The company says the three- and four-story garages are a key component of a broader transportation overhaul that has been planned as part of the Downtown Disney expansion and will ease chronic traffic congestion in the area. That work includes a new extension off of an Interstate 4 exit ramp that will deposit cars directly into one of the garages.

Overall, this is an exciting change for WDW. I was at the Premium Outlet Mall yesterday that is across I-4 from WDW. It was packed. Traffic to get into the parking lot was backed-up a mile at noon. People come to Orlando to shop! Disney has lacked a substantial shopping experience outside of the theme parks until now. Doing this, with restaurants and the like, will be another way to get guests to stay on property during their entire stay and create something unique to WDW.

It has been very cold with lows in the 30's. I could not detect that this has hurt Disney during Spring Break except at the themed pools. In fact, it may have helped. For those who came to "hit the beach" might make better use of their time by visiting a theme park or two. It will be interesting to see what the local news has to say about the next two weeks.

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