By Phoenix Tso
ANAHEIM, Calif. (Reuters) - The Walt Disney Co has won a 30-year renewal of a special tax exemption for visitors to its attractions in Anaheim, California, as part of a planned $1 billion-plus expansion of the famed theme park complex there.
The five-member City Council voted 3-2 early Wednesday to approve the company's proposal to go ahead with its Disneyland Resort makeover in exchange for a continued waiver of any future admissions tax the city might impose on entertainment venues.
The resort's current exemption was granted by the city in 1996 and was due to expire on June 30, 2016.
No entertainment gate tax has ever been levied by the city of Anaheim, but an extension of Disney's special waiver would reimburse the company for any such taxes imposed during the next three decades.
Disney and its supporters said the exemption is merited because of the huge economic benefit Anaheim derives from the resort, which is the largest employer in the city and Orange County as a whole, accounting for 28,000 local jobs.
The three hotels Disney operates within its resort and surrounding hotels that cater to theme park visitors also generate roughly $110 million a year in "transient occupancy" tax revenues paid to Anaheim, according to the city.
Mayor Tom Tait, a City Council member who backed the original tax exemption, had opposed extending it, citing an estimated $500 million in unfunded pension obligations now faced by the city.
"Chaining the hands of future residents on their ability to impose taxes will jeopardize the city's financial health," he was quoted as saying in the Orange County Register.
Both supporters and opponents packed the Tuesday hearing, which stretched into the early hours of Wednesday.
Disney's plan calls for breaking ground by the end of 2017 and finishing construction by 2024. A study commissioned by Disney projected the project would support an average of 2,600 local jobs a year and lead to creation of 2,100 permanent jobs.
The company has not specified whether Disneyland itself or the adjacent Disney California Adventure park, or both, would be enlarged, or what new attractions might be added. The project is to include a new 5,000-space parking structure.
Disneyland's original theme park opened to the public in 1955. No admission tax is currently collected at any Disney park in the world, company spokeswoman Suzi Brown said.
(Writing and additional reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Gareth Jones)