Was Disney World Supposed To Be In New Orleans?
As the legislative session wraps up in Baton Rouge and we start to really dive into lawmakers' bad decision making, how about a trip down memory lane? What if I told you one of the world's top tourist destinations was supposed to be built right in our backyard? That destination is none other than THE Walt Disney World. In the early 1960's, Louisiana lawmakers are reportedly to blame for the park being built in Orlando, Florida. That's right, Walt Disney wanted his second major theme park to be built just outside New Orleans.
The story goes that Walt Disney was already buying up land on the North Shore in the general area of Lacombe or Slidell. Personally, it's a strange story for me to write, because I grew up in a stone's throw away in Mandeville. Life as I have known it would have been completely different if Disney's plans would have come to reality.
A NOLA.com story quotes Slidell Mayor Sam Caruso who says Disney's trip was to the area now known as Bayou Sauvage. The scouting trip reportedly happened the same day John F. Kennedy was killed.
"When the furor over events in Dallas began to subside, Disney and his right-hand man, Caruso says, resumed their discussions with the political powers of the day. But they soon decamped from New Orleans in disgust and plumped instead for Orlando. Evidently, they just had to build the place in a swamp.
"You have probably already guessed what animated the great Walt and his sidekick when they turned their attention elsewhere. Right. It was the shakedowns. Plenty of businessmen since have found that they can barely get out of Moisant before they feel a politician's hand slipping into their pockets."
WGNO in New Orleans recounted the story of Disney's decision to look elsewhere for property after he was put up by pushy lawmakers. For reference, during the time of Walt Disney World construction, the Governor of Louisiana was Jimmy Davis. The original story was posted after the 2013 death of Diane Disney, Walt Disney's daughter and the inspiration behind the theme parks.
According to reports, greedy Louisiana politicians wanted everything. Some reports say the price of land was even hiked up because they knew Disney had big plans for the area. The WGNO story goes on to explain:
After a while, Walt Disney realized Orlando would always “give” to him and his company, while New Orleans and its seedy leaders would always be asking for something. Florida offered Disney major incentives while Louisiana had its hand out
All the major players have gone on to the great reward, so I can't independently confirm all of this. But, talk about impact. Current figures show that Orlando gets roughly 40 million tourists every year compared to New Orleans' 10 million. Orlando has obviously also grown as a result and becoming one Florida's largest cities.
The Louisiana aspect of this story is not included on one unofficial account of the construction of Walt Disney World by Ken Polsson. I have reached out to him for more informtion.
For now, the closest confirmed connection to Walt Disney World and New Orleans is the Port Orleans French Quarter Resort where southern hospitality and "Mardi Gras" are on full display. There is no doubt in my mind, that New Orleans obviously made a mark on Walt Disney at some point. And that's something I'm proud of.