People love Walt Disney World. So much so that it’s estimated over 50 million people visit the resort every year. Some people love it SO much that they wish they could live there. In the 1990’s Disney granted that wish when they created the town of Celebration Florida. Today we’re going to explain the origins of Disney’s town, and how it got built.
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In 1984 Michael Eisner and Frank Wells would join the Disney company as it’s new CEO and COO, and one of their first courses of action when it came to Walt Disney World was to sit down, look at the entire property, and come up with a long-term plan to put it to use. That plan included setting aside space for up to three new theme parks, up to 60,000 new hotel rooms, and a permanent 9,000 acre nature and wildlife preserve. But even with all of that space set aside, there was still unused land that they owned south of US 192. So the question became: “What should we do with that land?”
Selling it was an option, but the main drawback there was that Disney would ultimately have no control over what the new owners would do with it. Tacky hotels. Competing amusements. It was the very reason Walt had secretly purchased so much land in Florida to begin with. They could also just do… well, nothing. They could wait and see if it had a use later on down the line. However due to it being undeveloped pasture, the fear Disney had was that if they went too long without using it, the state might be able to use that to build a case to take the land via condemnation through eminent domain. The state would pay Disney for the land, but it’d be on their terms, not Disney’s. So Eisner quickly came to the conclusion that they’d be better off using the land, rather than risk losing it.
The town would ultimately get put on hold throughout the late 1980’s as the Disney Development Company focused on other projects such as Disney-MGM Studios, Pleasure Island, and Euro Disney over in France, but in 1990 work would resume. Some potential names for the town included Oak Tree and Green Meadows. During a visit by Eisner and his wife, Jane, the two were showed plans for a shopping center that was tentatively named Celebration Gardens. The two thought the name would work even better for the town as a whole, so it was the name Disney went with. Later on it would be further simplified to just ‘Celebration’.
By July 18th of 1996, the very first residents would be ready to move into Celebration, Florida. By that point 99% of the 350 homes were sold, every single apartment was occupied, with a waiting list that was growing, and 50% of the following 95 homes that would make up the next part of the town were already sold as well. Everything was going great. The town was the picturesque slice of Americana it promised to be. Neighbors got to know each other, Disney would hold events for the community, and it all happened a stone’s throw away from the most magical place on earth. However that perfect veneer wasn’t going to last for long.