THIS IS AN EXCERPT of remarks by Michael D. Eisner, chairman and CEO, the Walt Disney Co., before the World Affairs Council of Orange County. The speech, delivered Wednesday, concerned Disney’s attempts to expand its operations in Anaheim.
ONE OF THE PLEASANT SURPRISES that the Disney Company has experienced abroad has been the willingness of our foreign hosts to work with us to achieve a mutual benefit–and to enjoy the American entertainment product.
In Tokyo, the government, anticipating the resulting economic boom, helped us and our Japanese partner clear the way for Tokyo Disneyland.
And, more recently, the government of France joined in partnership with us, taking some remarkable steps to facilitate our multibillion-dollar result, Euro Disney.
They recognized that the private sector could not undertake a project of this size alone if they wanted the kind of quality we promised, and that the infrastructure provided by the government would not only serve Disney, but also lay a foundation for the economic expansion which was certain to follow.
Euro Disney is a textbook example of how the common good can be advanced when the government and the private sector join forces for their mutual benefit.
That being the case, it seems somewhat ironic to me that my company has successfully forged such mutually beneficial partnerships beyond our shores but hasn’t yet been able to put the pieces together here at home.
I’m talking, of course, about California. And about our fervent desire to bring to Anaheim–with a new world-class resort–the best of our 37 years of experience in creating fantastic vacation destinations around the world.
The Walt Disney Company started in Los Angeles and later moved to Burbank, California. When Walt decided to build his first theme park, he found what he thought was the ideal site in Anaheim.
Walt’s vision, his dedication to quality, his fierce pride are part of our Disney heritage and we continue to hew to these values. We are a company dedicated to building the best and investing all that is needed to produce the best.
THAT DOESN’T MEAN WE GO AROUND throwing money at our problems. As chairman of the Walt Disney Company, I have a fiduciary responsibility to invest in projects that promise a reasonable profit in the future. We are simply not willing to invest in projects that promise no return.
We have demonstrated that twice in the past four years. First, in Burbank, where we spent $ 1 million developing an exciting new urban retail entertainment center that just did not work out economically.
Then, last year in Long Beach, where we hoped to transform an unattractive, underutilized industrial shoreline into an enchanting seaside resort. We called it “Disney Sea.”
But from the reaction we received from some quarters, you might have imagined we were proposing a toxic dump in the middle of Big Sur. Again, we reluctantly withdrew.
If you get the impression that you are seeing in Anaheim a replay of what happened in Burbank and Long Beach, I hope you’re wrong.
The project we have proposed in Anaheim is much more ambitious than any we have ever undertaken. Rather than improving a vast tract of raw land, we are proposing to develop a world class vacation destination on almost 600 acres of densely populated urban America.
We want to do nothing less than bring Walt’s original vision for Anaheim to fruition, a Disneyland surrounded by beauty.
The proposal included a second theme park, WESTCOT Center, as well as new hotel, retail, dining and entertainment facilities. We want to transform the urban clutter around Disneyland into a lushly landscaped, pedestrian-oriented Garden District.
As with Euro Disney, the projected economic benefits to the community are substantial. At full build-out, the new resort would account for:
27,900 permanent new jobs, $ 150 million annually in new public revenues, and $ 2.4 billion per year in economic activity in the five-county Southern California region.
So what’s the problem? The Anaheim project as proposed is tremendously expensive, and perhaps more expensive to do in California than anywhere else we can think of.
We are trying to succeed despite a California business climate that has gone from sunny to chilly.
IF CALIFORNIA WERE A COUNTRY, it would have one of the largest gross national products in the world. But lately, I’m sorry to say, we’re looking more like a Third World nation–losing businesses, losing jobs, losing skilled workers.
One of the causes, I believe, is that the state does not have a coherent policy designed to attract and retain successful, economy-stimulating companies and industries.
Let me stress that I do not advocate in any way that we abandon the drive for clean air, neighbor-friendly construction or any other environmental necessities.
Another question: Can California afford to lose projects of his magnitude and retain its attractiveness as a tourist destination? I think not.
I believe that the WESTCOT project could do for Anaheim and Southern California what the restoration of Faneuil Hall did for Boston and what Inner Harbor did for Baltimore.
In fact, I believe it would have greater impact here than the combined restoration of Times Square, Battery Park and South Street Seaport have had in New York.
These massive redevelopment projects all have one thing in common: They resulted from public-private partnerships at various levels of government.
What they also have in common is that each provided a massive improvement in the quality of life, as well as jobs and the economic vitality, in the affected communities.
Together with the Anaheim city government, we’re looking at innovative ways to use a portion of the millions in new tax revenues that would be generated by the project to pay for critically needed public infrastructure improvements, improvements for which the city has concluded there is no other funding available.