Disney Plans Huge Residential, Retail Project in Florida

From Associated Press

Walt Disney Co. unveiled plans to build a massive upscale shopping mall, commercial office space and homes over the next 25 years on land it owns in Central Florida.

Richard A. Nunis, president of Walt Disney Attractions, said the project would be as "new and innovative as the opening of Disneyland and Walt Disney World," adding that construction could be under way within five years.

The 4,000-acre development, Disney's first on property it owns in Osceola County, is located about halfway between downtown Orlando and Tampa and is surrounded by 6,000 acres of greenbelt, Nunis said.

(Erwin Okun, a Disney spokesman in Burbank, said he "didn't know the details" about the project and referred inquiries to company officials in Florida, who could not be reached for comment.)

Further details were sketchy. The mall is expected to be Central Florida's largest at about 1.5 million square feet, but the number of housing units and amount of commercial office space to be developed were not disclosed.

County officials said last week that Disney told them that the company plans to build up to 6,000 middle-income and executive-type houses with a starting price of $90,000.

Local officials also said they were told the plans include up to 7 million square feet of commercial office space, 1.2 million square feet of light industrial office and manufacturing space, one or two golf courses and recreation areas.

The property would be de-annexed from Disney's 27,400-acre resort in central Florida and turned over to Osceola County, which would be a partner in its development, Nunis told an audience of government officials, businessmen and residents in Kissimmee.

That way, Disney would pay--for the first time--county impact fees for water, sewers, roads and other services. So far, all Disney development has been controlled by the company's own Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special district created by the 1969 Florida Legislature that gives the company much autonomy over its acreage.

Disney has been criticized by local government officials, who contend that the company's property taxes are not enough to pay for the impact it is having on mushrooming growth surrounding its theme parks, hotels and resort sites.

Nunis figures that a regional impact review would take about a year and a half. After that, "we will make an announcement on groundbreaking and proceed from there."

Most county officials were enthusiastic when they first heard of the plans last week.

"This allows us to plan for development now, instead of 20 years from now . . . and to be sure that we can pay for the services that are going to be needed," said County Commissioner Jim Swan.

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