ANAHEIM, Calif. — Businesses around Disneyland Resort celebrated California's new guidance, allowing Disneyland and other theme parks across the state to begin to reopen as early as April 1.
"We're ecstatic," Tropicana Inn & Suites General Manager Greg Eisenman told Spectrum News. "Even though it's at a limited capacity, we think it's a great big move to get started again."
California updated its Blueprint for a Safer Economy plan Friday, making amusement parks across the state to be eligible to reopen beginning April 1 in the red tier, the second most restrictive tier that tracks coronavirus cases in a county.
Before the change, large theme parks such as Disneyland and Knott's Berry Farm were not eligible to reopen until their home county, Orange County, reached the yellow tier, the state's least restrictive tier. Orange County is currently in the purple tier, the state's most restrictive level that prohibits certain business and other activity as part of an effort to limit the coronavirus's spread.
According to the state, theme parks can reopen at 15% capacity in the red tier, 25% capacity in the orange tier, and 35% capacity in the yellow tier. Only California residents would be allowed to visit the theme park.
"We are encouraged that theme parks now have a path toward reopening this spring, getting thousands of people back to work and greatly helping neighboring businesses and our entire community," Disneyland President Ken Potrock said in a statement. "With responsible Disney safety protocols already implemented around the world, we can't wait to welcome our guests back and look forward to sharing an opening date soon."
Universal Studios Hollywood President and COO Karen Irwin said they are thrilled "to have finally arrived at this milestone announcement."
"We are ready to reopen, ready to bring our team members back to work, ready to help stimulate the local economy, and ready to welcome guests," Irwin said in a statement to Spectrum News.
The updated change comes nearly a year since theme parks across the state closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.
The drop-in tourism and closures of theme parks have reverberated across sectors and led to an economic fallout.
For example, many businesses that relied on the tens of millions of people that Disney's two Anaheim theme parks attract had to lay off employees and, in some cases, shutter their doors.
Due to its heavy reliance on tourism, Anaheim saw a significant drop in bed and sales tax. The city faces a $115 million budget deficit.
A study by Cal State University, Fullerton economists said Orange County and Southern California's economy would take a $5 billion hit and result in more than 46,000 jobs lost across Southern California if Disneyland remains closed.
"This is a day that we've been waiting for, for nearly 12 months now," said Mike Lyster, the spokesman for the city of Anaheim. "It's an incredible day for Anaheim. There is a bigger significance to this. We're glad to see that the working family and small businesses that depend on our largest industry can come back."
Lyster said the city saw a 12% unemployment rate, or about 20,000 residents out of work during the height of the pandemic. That number has gone down in recent months to 9%, Lyster said, or about 15,000 unemployed residents.
"While we welcome the fun in our theme parks and baseball, this puts us on a path to economic recovery that is critical for our city," Lyster said. Lyster referred to another state announcement that allows fans to attend outdoor sports and live performances, also beginning April 1.
Throughout the pandemic, city and theme park officials have called on the governor to reopen theme parks and issue guidance to reopen.
Dara Malaki, the Pizza Press franchise owner, said he is also excited about the news. Malaki, who has a Pizza Press across the street from Disneyland, credits the Orange County Health Care Agency's work for keeping up with their promise of vaccinating as many residents as possible.
"I think the state saw the success of the county's vaccination program and all of Orange County's super PODs (point-of-dispensing) sites and how we've been proactive," Malaki said.
While Malaki would like to celebrate fully, he is still cautiously optimistic. He remembers other close calls of reopening last year.
"We've been down this road before," he said. "I am looking forward to some normality, but we're not out of the woods yet. This is a positive movement forward."
For Eisenman, the general manager at Tropicana and the Camelot Inn & Suites, located across the street from Disneyland, he will start reaching out to vendors and employees who were let go during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, the hotels employed more than 100 employees. They had to close the Camelot and currently have 30 employees.
He knows it's going to be a gradual return. More work and training have to be done. And the pandemic is still going on.
"Our next step is to encourage our employees to get vaccinated. We're also going to start looking for a service to get employees free COVID testing," he said. "We have been running on fumes, money-wise. This news gets us excited to get back to work."