Cranes and construction equipment dot the areas behind the scenes of Downtown Disney as it expands and transforms into Disney Springs.

Tom Staggs, chairman of Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, formally announced plans for the transformation in the spring of 2013. The project will significantly expand shopping, dining and entertainment options for Disneygoers, and offer new job opportunities for UCF students and Orlando residents. Disney Springs will feature four outdoor neighborhoods that will be interconnected by a lakefront and a flowing spring, according to a press release.

According to Staggs' Disney Parks blog, the modeling of Disney Springs will celebrate the classic lakeside towns that once marked Florida's landscape. The four neighborhoods — Town Center, The Landing, Marketplace and West Side — will each have their own unique atmosphere with many options for dining, shopping and entertainment.

The expansion is set to be complete in 2016, and will double the amount of restaurants, bars, retail stores and entertainment options currently available at Downtown Disney.

"The Disney Springs development is going to be huge," said Spencer Coleman, a boat captain for The Boathouse. "It's unlike anything I've really ever seen on Disney property before."

The Boathouse, which opened in April, is an upscale, nautical-themed restaurant that features waterfront dining, floating artwork and captain-guided Amphicar tours, according to the release.

Amphicars are amphibious vehicles modeled after classic cars that are driven from land into Lake Buena Vista.

"The former Pleasure Island area is going to be called The Landing," Coleman said. "We're taking all the old clubs and everything on Pleasure Island and making them into new restaurants and new shops; The Boathouse being the newest place to open in that area."

In addition to the property expansion, Coleman also said that Buena Vista Drive will be expanded to 10 lanes across, with a new I-4 off-ramp. A new parking garage has been added to the area and another is currently under construction.

UCF alumna Jessalyn Kash, who works at Epcot as an attractions hostess, lives in the area and said she spends a lot of time in Downtown Disney because the movie theater there is the one closest to her.

"I went shopping down there recently and I really enjoyed the parking garage," she said. "The bridge going over to Rainforest Café gives a beautiful view of the water. Have you seen those car-boat things? They're so neat. Definitely on my to-do list."

Despite the disturbances created by construction in the area, Kash said she looks forward to the final outcome.

"I'm down there a lot and the traffic is horrible," she said. "It will be worth it in the end."

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Eric Gutierrez is a Digital Producer for the Central Florida Future. Follow him on Twitter at @atticus_adrift or email him at

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