Disney Ditches Brightline
A lot can change in a few weeks. On June 7th, I explained the good news about Orlando and Brightline.
Apparently, Disney didn’t view the matter the same way, as it just dropped out of the Brightline project. Here’s what just happened.
Disney Cancels Brightline Station
Earlier this month, Orlando officials finally cut the deal they’d long anticipated.
Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and other local Brightline proponents finally settled on a method to connect the two most popular theme parks in the city, Universal Orlando Resort and Walt Disney World.
Universal Studios officials had asked Comcast to petition regional government contacts. Their stated goal centered on a Brightline station near the Orlando Civic Center.
By taking this approach, Universal could persuade some guests to stop at its theme parks either before or after a trip to Walt Disney World.
That’s terrific for Universal, as Walt Disney World remains the most-visited paid tourist destination on the East Coast…and arguably in the world.
For Disney, this plan doesn’t do much. In fact, it could cost them money for Orlando to operate the so-called Sunshine Corridor.
Once the Brightline extension opens, Disney will split the money with Universal that it had previously claimed entirely.
Universal just successfully lobbied to take a cut of Disney’s pie.
At the time of the announcement, I said, “Disney hadn’t wanted to help a competitor, but it still gets what it wants here.”
Apparently, Disney executives have evaluated the proposal and decided that they did not, in fact, get what they wanted here.
Disney just told Brightline to kick rocks. Spokesperson Avery Maehrer explained the situation matter-of-factly:
“As many people who are involved in this project are aware, the new route configuration does not support a Disney Springs station and as a result, we don’t anticipate being part of this project.”
Just by reading the icy tone of that statement, I need a winter coat.
What Happens Now?
Let’s not sugarcoat the matter. Disney just took a stand. The company’s management team believes that Brightline won’t succeed without Disney.
So, the Mouse just flexed its muscle and dropped out of the project. As a result, the proposed Disney Springs Brightline station is no longer a thing.
Brightline immediately refused to back down. Instead, the company released a statement of its own.
Ben Porritt, Brightline’s Senior Vice-President of Corporate Affairs, stated the following:
“In addition to the airport, one new station will be located at the Orange County Convention Center, and an alternative station will be placed near the original Disney Springs site, albeit not on land owned by Disney.”
Now, we got us a ballgame.
Disney just said, “No, you can’t put that station here.”
Brightline countered with, “That’s fine. We’ll put it somewhere close to there on land you don’t own.”
The implication is that Brightline doesn’t need Disney to position a station close to Disney Springs.
While technically accurate, the cost of that land would be expensive, and Brightline doesn’t own it yet. If they did, they wouldn’t have needed Disney anyway.
Brightline wants Disney’s approval and assistance. But, unfortunately, Disney just refused in a very public manner.
Presumably, some negotiations will continue behind the scenes. For now, we should assume that this impasse is permanent, though.
In such a scenario, Disney has canceled Magical Express and no longer has a replacement in the offing.
Many of its post-Magical Express plans focused on that new Brightline station at Disney Springs.
Conversely, Brightline lost the business partner it needed the most in uniting Central Florida via high-speed railway.
Brightline can succeed without Disney, but it’s a much tougher climb.
How much of this is posturing from one or both parties? Nobody knows yet. So, stay tuned…
How This Impacts You
Nothing changes for you right now. The Brightline station at/near Disney Springs wasn’t going to arrive until 2025 at best and more likely 2026.
The pandemic delayed construction on this project, which has left us all in limbo after the elimination of Magical Express.
In a WESH article, a professor of Theme Park Management, Ady Milman, suggests that Disney may introduce its own form of transportation to and from Orlando International Airport (MCO).
That would be a hilarious turn of events, as Brightline’s recent negotiations with Universal fostered unwelcome competition with Disney.
If Disney added a new method of airport travel, it’d sabotage Brightline’s entire business model. So, Disney’s decision works as an existential threat to Brightline.
To you and me as Disney Vacation Club owners, it doesn’t change anything for the next two or three years, though. We’re still stuck in limbo without Magical Express.