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Disney Plans Sound Stages and Studio Tour in Florida

Times Staff Writer

Walt Disney Productions plans to construct sound stages and a studio tour on its vast Florida property, creating a third “gated” attraction at Walt Disney World, The Times learned Monday.

“We’re definitely doing it,” Disney Chairman and Chief Executive Michael D. Eisner said in a telephone interview, adding that the company expects to start construction “within a year.”

Eisner declined to say how much the undertaking is expected to cost or whether Disney will seek partners to finance the project. But he indicated that admission to the studio tour will probably be priced below Epcot Center or the Magic Kingdom, Disney’s other Florida theme parks, which each charge $18 for a one-day adult ticket.

“It will be a working studio,” the Disney chairman said, noting that the company’s stepped-up production will strain the capacity of the four sound stages located on Disney’s Burbank lot. “We need more, and will build some of them in Florida rather than here,” Eisner said.

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Will Offer Rides

The new Disney tour will also offer the kind of “dark rides” through themed attractions that the company uses at its older parks, Eisner said. On those rides, tourists are usually seated in boats or trams that move along a track through a darkened structure past full-sized, activated mannequins giving lifelike performances.

Disney’s aggressive move appears to put some pressure on MCA Inc., owner of Universal Pictures, which has not yet built a Florida studio tour as planned and announced in 1981. MCA has invested $13 million in a 423-acre tract in Orlando to build a Florida version of the studio tour it has operated for 21 years at its Universal City headquarters.

During 1983 and 1984, MCA officials publicly reiterated their desire to build the tour but said they wanted to find a financial partner for the project, initially budgeted at $203 million.

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On Monday, MCA President Sidney J. Sheinberg declined to comment on MCA’s plans or to speculate about Disney’s impact on the proposed Universal attraction.

Gordon Crawford, senior vice president of Capital Research Co., a unit of Los Angeles-based Capital Group Inc., expressed skepticism on the chances of success for two studio tours in central Florida’s crowded theme-park market.

Overbuilt Market

“I think that’s an overbuilt park market,” Crawford said, predicting that if just one studio tour is built, it won’t attract more visitors to the area. Instead, the analyst said, he believes a studio tour will further “divide . . . the pie” of tourists.

Eisner, asked to distinguish Disney’s concept from the Universal Studios tour, replied that the two will be “totally different,” because Universal fashioned its tour around existing facilities, while Disney will build new facilities “in mind with people being able to see it.”

The new tour site will host not only motion picture and television production but also some of Disney’s animation department, Eisner said. The Disney chairman said that he plans to have a “continual animation movie being made down there,” with “painting, inking and drawing” being done on the studio tour site.

Disney officials first disclosed their interest in building the studio tour at the annual shareholders’ meeting last February. At the time, Disney’s top theme-park official, Richard A. Nunis, said the company had not decided whether to build sound stages in Florida or whether the studio tour would be made “part of Epcot or a separate gated attraction.”

On Monday, Eisner characterized the plans for Disney’s studio tour as “the most exciting . . . to come out of WED in a long time,” alluding to WED Enterprises, the Disney division that has designed all of its theme-park attractions, including the $1.2-billion Epcot Center, which opened in 1982.

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Separately, Disney announced Monday that outside companies will finance and construct two new luxury hotels on its Florida property, at a combined cost of about $265 million. When completed in 1988, the development is expected to be the largest convention-hotel complex on the East Coast.

The two hotels and convention facilities will be built on a 68-acre tract at Lake Buena Vista, with Tishman Realty & Construction managing both projects.

Sheraton said that its 1,528-room hotel and convention facility will be built by a joint venture formed by Metropolitan Life Insurance and Tishman Realty Corp., whose limited partner is Aoki America Inc.

Holiday Inns said its 12-story Crowne Plaza hotel with 759 rooms will be built by a joint venture formed by Tishman Realty Corp. and Aoki America.


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