Feature Article: Disney’s Contemporary Resort Under the Microscope

Rumors of the Disney Vacation Club adding units to Disney’s Contemporary Resort are almost as old as DVC itself.  After all, it seemed like the prefect solution to the problem that the Contemporary had become:  an aging eyesore that held little appeal to Walt Disney World guests despite its status as a landmark resort and its prime location within a stone’s throw of the Magic Kingdom.  Rumors regarding the CR were commonplace, and often of the “my brother’s girlfriend’s cousin who is in the College Program said…” variety.  Over time these rumors were given as much credence as stories of a fifth theme park or upcoming monorail expansion. 

Fifteen years and seven (soon to be eight) resorts later, we are not any closer to seeing a DVC resort addition to the Contemporary…or are we?  Let’s take a look at some of the recent developments in the ever-changing status of Disney’s Contemporary Resort.

The CR rumors first kicked into high gear back in May 2005 when Disney announced a plan to renovate to existing rooms at the Contemporary.  New décor, new lighting, new furniture, flat screen TVs—photos of the model rooms were nothing short of stunning considering how “non-contemporary” this resort had become.  The renovation began immediately and was scheduled to run through the fall of 2006. 

The curious part of the rehab plan was that it included only the Tower rooms (the large A-frame structure) and the South Garden Wing.  What about the North Garden Wing?  Throughout the rehab, the North Garden Wing continued to host guests, but no plans were unveiled regarding the future of this section of the resort. 

In March 2006 website WDWMagic.com posted an interesting report potentially linked to the Contemporary.  According to their sources, the STOLport was scheduled to be turned over to Walt Disney Imagineering in September 2006 as a construction staging area.  The STOLport is a small airstrip (“STOL” stands for Short Take-Off and Landing) located just outside of the Transportation and Ticket Center.  Given the lack of real estate immediately surrounding the Contemporary, it was reasonable to think that construction crews working at the Contemporary would need additional space nearby for office trailers, equipment storage, material storage, and so forth.

However the STOLport rumors took an unexpected turn.  Soon word began to spread that the STOLport was not merely a construction staging area, but instead was the future home of a free-standing DVC resort.  The Epcot monorail line runs right alongside the STOLport site and the proposed DVC property would be the first resort with a stop along the Epcot monorail.  While this rumor did seem to come out of left field, it made a certain amount of sense in that it would give Disney and DVC another resort with monorail service without necessitating a multi-million dollar expansion to the monorail line itself. 

Meanwhile attention shifted back to the Contemporary when it was announced that its tennis center would be closing in mid-2006.  The Racquet Club featured six courts located adjacent to the North Garden Wing.  One wonders what plans Disney might have that would require additional land beside the North Garden Wing, eh?

But the single most significant day in the quest for DVC CR was the afternoon of August 6, 2006.  A pair of images were discovered on the website of architects Gwathmey Siegel & Associates.  The images appeared with the following caption: 

Contemporary Disney Vacation Club
Resort Timeshare Condominiums
Lake Buena Vista, FL
Status: In design
Completion Date: 2008

The cat was out of the bag, right?  Within 24 hours the images were removed from the Gwathmey Siegel website, a move that smacked of damage control.  Too little, too late; finally there was substance to years of rumor and innuenco.  Still, unanswered questions lingered.  For instance, a completion date of 2008 seemed far-fetched for a 16-story tower on a site where construction would be something of a logistical nightmare (see STOLport staging area.)  Certainly DVC will take dozens of plans to varying stages of completion before deciding on a future project.  Could this be an abandoned concept?

For the most part, signs continued to point toward the DVC / Contemporary union.  On October 1, 2006, the North Garden Wing permanently closed to guests.  Activity soon began at the STOLport site and eventually on the North Garden Wing property itself.  Construction fences were erected and it became clear that workers were gutting the existing structure.

On October 12, 2006, DVC issued a press release announcing its eighth Vacation Club property.  To the surprise of many, Disney’s Animal Kingdom Lodge would be home to a new series of DVC units rather than the Contemporary.  But this unexpected development hasn’t done much to stem the tide of Contemporary rumors. 

In January 2007 a series of permits were published on the website of the South Florida Water Management District.  These permits not only included plans for a structure clearly identical to the images taken from the Gwathmey Siegel website, but they openly referred to the project as the Disney Vacation Club “Contemporary Resort Suites.”  Shortly thereafter crews began demolition work at the North Garden Wing, apparently eliminating the possibility that the North Wing would be rehabbed in a similar manner as the South Garden Wing.

Skeptics will point to what could still occur to derail the project.  In late-2006 a surprising number of reports from “inside sources” claimed that DVC would not be building at the Contemporary.  Reasons for this reported change of heart include cost (construction difficulties, land value), a dramatic upturn in occupancy levels at the Contemporary following the ’05-’06 renovations,  and the inability to build the resort in phases (as is the case with both Saratoga Springs and the forthcoming Disney’s Animal Kingdom Villas.)  And let us not forget the aborted plans for a DVC resort near the Eagle Pines golf course.  At The Walt Disney Company turf wars are not uncommon with executives each pushing their own projects and agendas.  Large-scale ventures are often slow in receiving approval and quick to draw scrutiny from other competing business units.

The only thing clear is that  something is happening at the Contemporary Resort.  DVC rooms?  Cash rooms?  A new parking lot?  Until Disney makes a formal announcement, the rumor mill will have to churn a bit longer.  And given the checkered history of this site, you will have to forgive some long-time DVC members for being more than a bit jaded by rumors concerning the Contemporary. 

Thanks to Allearsnet.com, DISBoards.com, MouseOwners.com, MousePlanet.com and WDWMagic.com for information used in this article.