The Windows on Main Street: The Men Who Bought The World
This week, we continue our look at the acquisition of the land on which Walt Disney World sits. So we all know that Walt eventually decided upon the swamplands of Central Florida for his second theme park (If not, you can check it out here). What we haven’t talked about are the people that helped secretly buy the land, namely Roy Davis, Bob Price, Bob Foster, along with General Joe Potter. Walt decided upon the landlocked location (rather than a coastal area) because he didn’t want to deal with hurricanes or with people coming to the park in bathing suits. In 1964, Walt, having chosen a location on the borders of Orange and Osceola counties, sent out Robert Foster, Roy Disney, and Joe Potter, among others, to buy up the land.
As they started buying up land, the team noticed a large parcel of land for $100 per acre. At first, Roy (aka Roy Davis) questioned Walt about buying anymore land (because they already had 12,000 acres). Walt responded with, “Roy, how would you like to own 7,000 acres around Disneyland right now?” Roy got the point and bought the land. Bob Foster/Price also had to sneak around so that word wouldn’t get out. After he finished dealings in Florida (buying land for the future Lake Buena Vista/Bay Lake area) he would, most often, fly back to Kansas City before returning to California (the others on the land buying team employed similar tactics to keep their identity a secret).
The largest land parcels bought were 12,400 acres by a group of Orlando home builders, 8.500 by Florida senator Irlo Bronson, and 1,250 by a local investment group. The largest property (12,400 acres) came with a problem: Tufts University still owned mineral rights for the property. Without these rights, Tufts could tear down any structure Disney built on the land in order to get to the minerals underground. As we all know, there are Disney structures there now, so they eventually got the rights to the minerals underneath.
After purchasing most of the large parcels, the team focused on smaller parcels around the existing properties. By the time they were done, Disney owned 27,000 acres-150 times the size of Disneyland. Currently, it only occupies 25,000 acres but did occupy 30,000 acres (sounds weird, doesn’t it?) at it’s peak before properties were de-annexed (like Celebration).