Sure, Pleasure Island has resembled a ghost town for two years, but now it's officially dead. Walt Disney World announced last week its plans to rename and reinvent the area, the center segment of Downtown Disney.
Coming up is the Hyperion Wharf name. Going down will be buildings that housed four P.I. nightclubs, starting with Motion and Rock 'n' Roll Beach Club and then, eventually, the demolition of BET Soundstage Club and the Adventurers Club. All will be replaced with restaurants.
This had long been the rumor, even before it was announced in 2008 that all Pleasure Island nightclubs would be closing. The goal, Disney officials said, was to provide more shopping and dining options at Downtown Disney. The lakefront property of that side of P.I. was considered a prime spot for the eatery expansion.
Since then, there's been limited development of the strip, with the exception of Paradiso 37, a Latin restaurant that opened in 2009.
"You don't like to see an entire area like Pleasure Island basically empty and appearing to be abandoned," says Lou Mongello, a Disney-oriented writer, publisher and host of the WDW Radio podcast. He is pleased with the direction Disney is going, he says.
"It's going to be a destination for families," Mongello says. "I think part of what Pleasure Island's difficulties were was that it was for adults only. … You couldn't take your kids there at night because there were people doing shots at the Beach Club."
Even in the glory days of Pleasure Island, there weren't a lot of guests around during the day. The Hyperion Wharf concept is designed, Disney says, to be used all day and to have folks linger in the area, which will include a waterfront park set to open next summer.
"I think it's great that they now have a plan in place," says Lance Hart, editor of the Screamscape website devoted to theme parks and attractions. "However, I do think they acted too hasty when they closed everything previously, and I think the things like the Comedy Warehouse and Adventurers Club would have fit right into the new area perfectly."
The Adventurers Club has vocal supporters. Lack of A.C. was a common complaint in the comments on the Disney Parks Blog post about the new plans.
"I think a lot of Adventurers Club enthusiasts still have hope" for a rebirth, Mongello says. The establishment had an old-time explorers theme and centered on a series of skits.
"I don't think the Adventurers Club, per se, will return," says Mongello, whose enterprises are not affiliated with Walt Disney Co. "I think there will be the return of that same type of interactive experience, but I think it will be a dining experience, something you can bring your family to. So you won't just have a bar."
He imagines it more on the Hoop-Dee-Doo Musical Revue model — with reservations and more turnover in audience — and not necessarily at Downtown Disney.
But for now, the plans reflect what Disney said it was going to do — add shopping and dining options.
"I don't see where that adds value to the guest experience," says Scott Smith, a professor at the University of Central Florida's Rosen College of Hospitality Management.
"If somebody else had come up with this we'd be like 'Oh that sounds really good and unique,' " Smith says. "But with Disney, we hold them to a higher standard or expectation, so this announcement is underwhelming."
What we know
•Disney expects Hyperion Wharf to be finished by early 2013. Work will be done in stages so as not to disrupt current guests.
•The giant Pleasure Island lettering atop the former Mannequins building will be removed. (That building is staying but will be repurposed, a Disney official says.)
•The plan calls to cut through the Motion cul-de-sac to connect Hyperion Wharf with Downtown Disney's Marketplace.
What we wonder
•The identity of the restaurants remains a mystery. Disney is in negotiations, says Keith Bradford, vice president of Downtown Disney.
•While looking at project renderings (fire eaters?), we wondered if that billboard might be an elaborate light display (see side of Amway Center).
•The signage for stores in the renderings is surely fake, but it sure doesn't look like the Harley-Davidson store either.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun