Going from concept to reality is fraught with peril when companies have to juggle budgets, creative ideas that perhaps might not translate well once they move beyond paper and other countless variables that inevitably can turn a finished product into something far different than what was first conceived. Exposition Park, now open at Downtown Disney’s West Side suffered this fate. It’s not that we couldn’t see this coming, one look at the original Disney Springs concept art and one can quickly deduce that what was to become Disney’s Food Truck Park was largely a thematic placemaking that felt hastily tacked on in order to tie the existing West Side into the revamped as well as completely new areas that shall make up Disney Springs.
With a blank canvas to create something unique, special and most of all lasting this just doesn’t feel like any of those.
It’s not that Exposition Park with its, themed abandoned railway doesn’t add to the otherwise largely formulaic outdoor mall that is Downtown Disney West Side, it is that with a blank canvas to create something unique, special and most of all lasting this just doesn’t feel like any of those. It is certainly an improvement over the open-air plaza that it replaced, but it falls short of what it promised in the concept art and barely fits into the rest of what I’ve seen of the Disney Springs project that is so rich in character and swooping improvements to a Downtown Disney that is set to quickly fade into the history books.
Earlier this year the concept art had undergone its first revision in the public arena as Disney began promoting the summertime opening of Food Truck Park (a schedule Disney wasn’t able to keep). In this revision the theming of the elevated “abandoned railway” had gone from rustic to a more modern approach with the second floor of the railway providing balcony seating with umbrella-covered tables along with standing room views of the Disney Springs action below. Access would have been granted by a pair of modern staircases adorned with steel and glass along with a glass-enclosed elevator.
Yet even this outcome, where the second floor of the elevated “highline” would never get past the conceptual stage seemed all but written in stone. A second floor would immediately raise safety concerns especially when you take into account the things that some weak-minded individuals in our society stoop to doing.
So now we are left with beautiful hood ornaments, the Disney Food Trucks, that decorate the plaza with their colorful presence but don’t operate until late in the day, long after most everything else has opened in the Downtown Disney West Side, detracting from the natural gathering place this open air space was and could be were it not for the presence of the obviously closed food trucks throughout the early and middle parts of the day.
The Disney Food Trucks now have a home, well sort of.
Exposition Park isn’t without its upsides of course. The Disney Food Trucks now have a home, even though you can’t exactly be sure when your favorite food truck will be present, as they are in rotation. As long as you don’t expect lower prices at these food trucks than you will generally enjoy the culinary showcases from the four Disney theme parks. The Disney Food Trucks also provide quick service food options in Downtown Disney’s West Side which until recently was lacking in that regard.
The trucks are pristine and beautiful and a sight to behold though I still find that it feels largely out-of-place in Downtown Disney. The “highline” structure itself is still interesting, despite losing one of its unique aspects and does provide some shade and the concrete planters beside them create seating areas that those with tired feet will surely appreciate. An elevated railway provides some theming to West Side but so little has been done to the existing storefronts that there is certainly a discord and some of the previous sightlines have been hindered.
Leaving just one thing that I believe may be the most redeeming quality of the new Exposition Park and that is that it has a small dedicated space set up for live performances. If there is one thing I learned from my trip to Disneyland’s Downtown Disney District is that somehow in less space, Disneyland managed to always feel more alive than what had been a stagnating Downtown Disney prior to the announcement of Disney Springs.
A small space for live performances will likely be the most redeeming quality of Exposition Park.
In large part I felt this was because everywhere you turned something was going on. Whether it was a musician or some other stage act, they brought life to the crowds and to the overall area. This is something clearly Disney Springs is looking to get right as we’ve seen an outdoor amphitheater space set up in The Landing and now this much more humble but I hope significant space in the West Side so that no matter where you are in Disney Springs it and you feel so alive.