Sunday, October 24, 2010

Scott And Carol Present - Project Future - A Look At How Disney Chose Orlando

How do you like a good yarn with a happy ending? Is it okay if a skulduggery is thrown in and the mystery is known from the beginning, but exactly how it was solved isn’t revealed to the end? If that is your cup of tea, then Project Future, by Chad Emerson might be of interest. He has documented the process of selecting Orlando for the location of Walt Disney World.

When Walt wanted to go east of the Mississippi River, he turned to the late Harrison “Buzz” Price to help determine the best location for the project. As early as 1955 Walt had begun talking about the project with people both inside and outside the company, many different locations were considered, but Walt and Roy had obtaining lots of land as their major objective. They did not want so be surrounded by other businesses as quickly as had happened in Anaheim.

The law firm headed by William Donovan, the former head of the OSS during World War II was selected to insulate Disney from any Florida contact until they were ready to announce the project. The use of fronting corporations and collateral contacts is detailed to help give readers an understanding of how these big projects are concluded. The legends of whose plane they used for research travel and how the Disney Company bought the land without the using their name are explained. The Florida newspaper that discovered who the mystery investor was, but withheld publishing it to prevent derailing the project is revealed.

When asked what the most surprising thing he discovered Chad replies, “The most surprising thing to me was how close Walt Disney World came to being located somewhere else than Orlando (especially the near miss in Palm Beach.)” The Niagara Falls, New York City, and Saint Louis options are all explained, including the reason for not being selected. He also discovered how many of the key players have still not been recognized for their role in the project, maybe due to their naturally reticent past in espionage.

The major meeting in Boston that almost derailed the project is discussed, although there are some things about that meeting that still are not known. How some Disney team members personal travel plans were examined for clues as to the location of the project. This fast-paced book gives readers a real appreciation for the lengths of security needed to make something like Project Future succeed.

According to Emerson the most important decision related to Project Future was “Making a huge and technologically advanced (and expensive) investment in the resort’s infrastructure. All of that swamp draining require large amount of great engineering. Disney could have done it cheaper but it would not have lasted as well and for as long as it has toady.” During a Disney symposium at last year’s IAAPA, it was talked about how even during the most recent massive hurricanes the runoff of all the extra rainwater was still contained on Disney property in the retention system.

At the first public announcement of Walt Disney World, on October 25, 1965 at the Egyptian Room in the Cherry Plaza Hotel, the project was revealed. But that isn’t the end of this story; Emerson relates the legislative hurdles that were also overcome. Equally as important as the land constraints, the political solutions also contributed to the Walt Disney World we visit today. So looking back 45 years, this is a mouse that truly roared in central Florida. A great read and a must for anyone interested in amusement park or Disney Company history.