HOUSTON – Ralph Bivins of Realty News Report: The latest edition of The Ralph Bivins Project podcast, features an interview with Mary Shanklin, an independent journalist in the Orlando area near Disney World.
RALPH BIVINS: Welcome, this is Ralph Bivins with the Ralph Bivins Project. We’re here today to talk about Walt Disney’s real estate empire. What’s been happening in the area of Disney World in Orlando has been in the news lately.
It’s an impressive development, with a lot of lessons to be learned about what happened there. The creation of Disney World was the largest land assemblage ever undertaken in the United States or anywhere. After Disneyland opened in Anaheim, California in 1955, Walt Disney wanted to open a similar park on the East Coast. Walt Disney himself directed the assemblage which involved 51 different land acquisitions, some of which was acquired for $100 a foot. It’s amazing. The property is about 28,000 acres, about the size of The Woodlands community in Texas. Disney brought in star architects to create the Celebration master planned community, which was one of the first developments to advance new urbanism. With 28,000 acres, Disney told the State of Florida that he needed to have some kind of municipal government to create a futuristic city.
We are lucky to have with us today, Mary Shanklin, an independent journalist in the Orlando area who is aware of the real estate and tax structure in that area. She knows it all, like the back of her hand. Mary, thank you for signing on today.
MARY SHANKLIN: It’s always a pleasure, Ralph. I appreciate the intro and I also appreciate how knowledgeable you are about the assemblage of this property. It involved some historic game-changing methods that have become part of the way we develop land. The methods affect the way large-scale developments are put together today.
This was one of the first such developments – and is still the only one I know of in Florida. I am not aware of any others outside of Florida where a government was set up to handle such development. Disney wanted to create his own government to handle it. We have a lot of swamp land in Florida, land that required massive amounts of drainage, permitting and environmental permitting. By putting it all under the Disney umbrella, this was how he got the acreage for so little money. This was the only way to control all of that.
RALPH: It is a lot of land to control and a lot of responsibility.
MARY: If you are going to look at the textbook of what we learned and how we look at development today, we see the later version of this method. We don’t see companies today like the Amazons and the Googles and the many oil companies creating their own governments and collecting taxes. What you do see today are taxing districts and commercial development districts. That’s become the latter-day version of that. It’s become a great funding tool..
RALPH: It’s a lot to bite off and chew at the beginning, installing all the utilities and preparing all the property, then waiting a long time to take in revenue.
MARY: To your point, this is what they were able to do during the period of a half century from the time that Disney was first contemplating what he initially called EPCOT (Experimental Prototype Community of the Tomorrow, which became known as Disney World) to now. Before he was able to launch it, he was able to put into play taxing districts – which would probably be unheard of today. There is a lack of transparency in what governments have to show.
Now, it has all come to issue. In headlines all over the country, Disney has become vocal in what Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis is pushing as his “Don’t Say ‘Gay’” legislation which dictates for our educational system the language that educators and textbooks can use. Disney employs a lot of people in the LGBTQ+ community. Some of the cast members really pushing the company’s upper management, and Disney did become involved in the conversation, to the dismay of the governor. He decided that Disney perhaps didn’t need the regulations included in what is known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. He talked to the state – and the state can undo it. What the state giveth, the state can taketh away.
RALPH: And the governor signed the legislation recently.
MARY: It’s likely to head to the courts.
May 10, 2022 – Realty News Report Copyright 2022.
Mary Shanklin, a journalist based in the Orlando area, works in print, online and broadcast media. She covered real estate and development at the Orlando Sentinel for a number of years.
NOTE: The Reedy Creek Improvement District is a progressive form of government, created in 1967 by a special act of the Florida Legislature, the purpose of which is to support and administer certain aspects of the economic development and tourism within District boundaries. With an administration office located on Hotel Plaza Boulevard in Lake Buena Vista, the District encompasses approximately 25,000 acres in both Orange and Osceola counties, servicing 19 landowners, including Walt Disney Co. and its wholly owned affiliates.
File: Update: Disney’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. Walt Disney.