Hyperion Wharf

Downtown Disney,
Walt Disney World


WW GOES TO WDW at Yesterland.com
at Yesterland.com

On November 18, 2010, The Walt Disney Company announced that Pleasure Island would become Hyperion Wharf. It would involve more than just renaming the former nightclub area. Concept art showed a vibrant “electric wonderland” at night.

It seemed like a good idea—if overdue. It had been more than two years since Disney shuttered their clubs at Pleasure Island. The area needed new tenants, new life, and a new brand.

Another two years passed. During that time, two clubs were demolished, but the other clubs remained empty. The name of the area continued to be Pleasure Island. It’s not unusual for construction projects to be delayed, but it looked more and more as if Hyperion Wharf would never happen.

Earlier this month, it became official. Hyperion Wharf is now part of Yesterland.

Werner Weiss, Curator of Yesterland, March 29, 2013


Disney’s Pleasure Island and Hyperion Wharf

Photo by Werner Weiss, Jan. 9, 2012

Pleasure Island more than three years after the clubs closed

Pleasure Island opened May 1, 1989. Taking a queue from the “adaptive reuse” trend, where old factory and warehouse districts are reborn as shopping and entertainment complexes, Disney purposely made Pleasure Island look like a hodgepodge of old waterfront structures. An elaborate backstory explained their origin. For 19 and a half years, guests enjoyed Pleasure Island and its “incredible nightclubs.”

The clubs gave Walt Disney World guests and cast members a place to go for nighttime entertainment. For most of those years, there was even a New Year’s Eve show every night at 11:45 p.m., complete with fireworks. Two of the original clubs—Comedy Warehouse and (especially) The Adventurer’s Club—developed fiercely loyal repeat fans.

In an effort to make Pleasure Island a successful profit center, Disney fiddled with the mix of clubs and how guest access to the island worked. In 2005, one of the larger structures, the former Jazz Club, was leased to an outside company to become Raglan Road Irish Pub & Restaurant. Disney could collect hefty rent payments instead of worrying about how to make its revenue exceed its operating costs.

Disney’s Pleasure Island and Hyperion Wharf

Photo by Werner Weiss, Nov. 9, 2008

Former Comedy Warehouse about six weeks after it closed

Disney’s Pleasure Island and Hyperion Wharf

Photo by Werner Weiss, Jan. 9, 2012

Former Comedy Warehouse more than three years after it closed

The remaining clubs closed September 27, 2008. It was the end of Disney’s fiscal year during the worst economic downturn in the U.S. economy since the Great Depression.

Now all Disney had to do was to find more companies like the one behind Raglan Road.

In 2009, an Orlando-area restaurant firm opened Paradiso 37, a bar and restaurant with food of the Americas, in what had been retail and fast food space. But that was it. The clubs remained unused except for occasional group rentals. Disney dressed up Pleasure Island with potted plants and flowers, but there was no hiding that the place was little more than an obstacle between the Marketplace and the West Side.

The Pleasure Island brand was tainted. It was time for rebranding and a refresh.

Disney’s Pleasure Island and Hyperion Wharf

Concept art copyright Disney

Concept art for Hyperion Wharf

On November 18, 2010, Disney issued a press release announcing “a completely re-imagined Pleasure Island” called Hyperion Wharf, along with other enhancements to Downtown Disney. With serious unemployment problems in Central Florida, the press release proudly proclaimed, “Combined, the projects are expected to create an estimated 1,200 new jobs over the next three years.”

Disney’s Pleasure Island and Hyperion Wharf

Concept art copyright Disney

More concept art for Hyperion Wharf

Two key paragraphs in the press release described Hyperion Wharf:

A nostalgic yet modern take on an early 20th century port city and amusement pier will evolve Pleasure Island into “Hyperion Wharf.” By day, the bustling port district will draw guests in with its stylish boutiques and innovative restaurants and by night, thousands of lights will transform the area into an electric wonderland.

Taking its name from Hyperion, the Greek god of light, as well as the street on which Walt Disney built his first major animation studio, the wharf district also will feature a relaxing lakeside park and enhanced pedestrian walkways. Its diverse eateries will expand dining availability at Downtown Disney by more than 25 percent.

But the real clue to what Disney was planning came from the concept art that accompanied the press release.

Disney’s Pleasure Island and Hyperion Wharf

Concept art copyright Disney

Former Mannequins (top center)

Pleasure Island had been designed to look like a wharf district with eclectic touches. The new name, Hyperion Wharf, embraced that theme rather than trying to hide from it.

It would still be the hodgepodge of waterfront structures. Essentially, the buildings of Pleasure Island would be reused by Hyperion Wharf. For example, the building with the rooftop Hyperion Wharf sign was recognizable as the former Mannequins Dance Palace. But where the Rock & Roll Beach Club had been, a small amphitheater would face the waterfront. Rows of white lights would line the edges of the buildings. There would be new lighting, new pavement, new landscaping, new architectural elements, new signs—and, most importantly, new businesses to fill the many vacancies.

At least that was the plan.

Disney’s Pleasure Island and Hyperion Wharf

Photo by Werner Weiss, Feb. 4, 2011

Demolition

It soon looked as if the plan was moving full speed ahead. In February 2011, Motion and Rock & Roll Beach Club were demolished.

Disney’s Pleasure Island and Hyperion Wharf

Photo by Werner Weiss, Feb. 4, 2011

Debris ready to be hauled off.

But then a funny thing happened...

Nothing. Or at least almost nothing. (An Apricot Lane boutique opened during summer 2011.)

Disney’s Pleasure Island and Hyperion Wharf

Photo by Werner Weiss, Feb. 4, 2011

View from Paradiso 37 during the demolition

Instead of building an amphitheater, Disney kept the wooden wall around the newly vacant demolition site. Where was the rest of the refresh? Where was the rebranding? Where were the tenants creating new restaurants and shops in the vacant structures?

It seemed that prospective tenants were no more interested in the property than they were before the Hyperion Wharf announcement. Disney apparently decided not to throw more money at the project under these circumstances. The Pleasure Island signs stayed up.

Disney’s Pleasure Island and Hyperion Wharf

Photo by Werner Weiss, Jan. 8, 2012

Neatly mowed vacant lot where Rock & Roll Beach Club had been

On July 13, 2011, the Orlando Sentinel reported on the status of the project (“Disney’s Pleasure Island makeover stalls” by Jason Garcia):

Walt Disney World’s slow-moving makeover of Pleasure Island has stalled again.

The giant resort disclosed this week that construction of “Hyperion Wharf” — a dockside-themed shopping and dining area that was to replace Pleasure Island and its long-shuttered nightclubs — has been delayed indefinitely as the company re-evaluates plans for the site.

The move comes barely half a year after Disney unveiled the Hyperion Wharf concept. The resort recently demolished some of Pleasure Island’s clubs, all of which have been closed since 2008.

With some regularity throughout the rest of 2011 and 2012, various Disney fan sites would claim that Hyperion Wharf was dead. But with Pleasure Island alive in name only, some sort of refresh was still needed.

Disney Springs concept artwork

Concept art copyright Disney

The Landing (top) and The Town Center (bottom)

On March 14, 2013, Disney unveiled its new vision for a refresh. Downtown Disney is to become Disney Springs. This time the project would not just be a Band-Aid applied to Pleasure Island, but a significant enhancement to the entire Downtown Disney guest experience.

Pleasure Island, still with its waterfront theme, will become The Landing. If you’re familiar with Pleasure Island, you can recognize existing buildings in the upper part of concept artwork above. But there are new structures too.

Disney Springs concept artwork

Concept art copyright Disney

Signature water tower at The Town Center

In front of The Landing, where there’s parking today, an entirely new neighborhood is planned. The Town Center will add new retail and dining space, along with a new signature water tower and grand entry. A flowing spring between The Landing and The Town Center will be the centerpiece of Disney Springs and the reason for its name.

The press release describes the role of the spring and the reason for it: “Drawing inspiration from Florida’s waterfront towns and natural beauty, Disney Springs will include four outdoor neighborhoods interconnected by a flowing spring and vibrant lakefront.”

It’s a good early Florida theme. Florida is home to numerous natural springs that were destinations long before there was Walt Disney World. Today’s Downtown Disney consists of three disjointed parts. If the flowing streams and The Town Center can tie everything together, it will be a welcome improvement.

Disney Springs concept artwork

Concept art copyright Disney

Pedestrian causeway at The Marketplace

The other two neighborhoods of Disney Springs are The Marketplace and The West Side, just as today. But these will be refreshed as part of the Disney Springs project.

Enhancements to The Marketplace include an over-the-water pedestrian causeway, providing a shortcut across the cove, and an expanded World of Disney store.

Disney Springs concept artwork

Concept art copyright Disney

Elevated structures at The West Side.

The West Side will gain new elevated structures—apparently modeled after repurposed elevated train tracks like New York’s High Line park. These will provide shade and an opportunity for guests to watch the activity below. Perhaps there will also be an infusion of charm, now sorely lacking from the mid-1990s “big box store mall” architecture addition to Downtown Disney.

Disney Springs concept artwork

Concept art copyright Disney

A new addition at The Landing

The closing paragraph of the Disney Springs press release is an appropriate way to end this article:

Disney will share more details on specific experiences coming to Disney Springs in the future. Construction is slated to begin next month with new areas opening in phases. Disney Springs is expected to be complete in 2016.

And this time, let’s hope they really mean it!


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Updated October 11, 2013.