In today's Finshots we talk about Disney's latest foray into real estate

The Story

What’s the first thing you think of when you see the word, Disney?

Mickey Mouse? Marvel? Star Wars or maybe some other Disney character that shaped your childhood. But unlike its contemporaries, Disney’s magic isn’t just limited to cinemas or TV alone. Instead, it transcends those conventional mediums.

You can “experience” the Disney fairytale first-hand in  dozens of elaborate theme parks across the globe. To this date, they register millions of visitors each year. Last quarter alone, its parks division posted a sweet $7.2 billion in revenues. So clearly, there are enough people in the world who prefer to love, live and breathe everything “Disney.”

Which explains Disney’s latest venture — “Storyliving by Disney”.

What’s that?

Well, to put it simply, it’s Disney’s attempt to sell premium real estate in the name of… um…. Disney.


This Wednesday the company unveiled that it was going to build several residential townships across the US. Except, unlike its popular theme parks, these townships won’t feature its famous rides or Mickey Mouse mascots roaming around the streets. Instead, you will find meticulously manicured villas, condos, shopping and entertainment centres, all sprinkled with subtle Disney themes. The community itself will be managed and maintained by Disney’s guest services, the very people who manage those parks.

The first-ever Storyliving neighbourhood — a 618-acre community called Cotino — is already under construction in Rancho Mirage, California. It comes with its own 24-acre “grand oasis” lagoon, smack in the middle of the town.

Enticing prospect for all the Disney adults out there, isn’t it?

Well, true. But this isn’t the first time Disney is painting a pristine picture. It has dabbled in real estate before and the results weren’t exactly stellar.

Disney’s experiments with real estate began with its illustrious founder. Walt Disney was fascinated by urban development and city planning. He was also not a particular fan of what modern cities offered in his time. He thought they were disorganized, dirty and unliveable in general. He vowed to change that and dreamed of building a futuristic city of his own. A city that had no place for laborious commute, dirty streets, and failing infrastructure. Instead, he wanted it to feature neatly lined houses, a string of monorails and something called the PeopleMover — a means of transport that always keeps moving — to help people get around.

He called the city EPCOT — the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow. By the mid-1960s, Walt had redirected considerable resources to make EPCOT a reality. Unfortunately, Disney died in 1966 and his vision died with him. The company subsequently shelved the ambitious plans for EPCOT and converted what was to be “EPCOT the city” into “EPCOT the theme park”, which operates even today. The company also later utilized many of the elements developed during this time and incorporated them inside the parks, including the PeopleMover.

But the idea of building a liveable space? It was still something they wanted to take a shot at. And in 1996, Disney revisited those plans once again and launched Celebration, a new planned town near its Orlando resort that could house a population of around 10,000. The residents of the town for years complained about the poor quality of construction. The town was also subject to widespread foreclosures post-2008 recession. Some residents even described the experience as “creepy.” It simply didn’t have the Disney magic and instead, it was a “nightmare” of sorts.

The company eventually sold much of its stake in 2004 to a private investment firm. But that’s not it.

In 2011, Disney took another shot at real estate by building a 980-acre gated Golden Oak community in Florida located right beside Walt Disney World. And unlike the previous attempts, this was somewhat of a success. Because vacation homes in Golden Oak still sell for as high as anywhere between $1.5 million and $10 million.

So yeah, real estate may not have been Disney’s cup of tea. But they finally seem to be getting a hang of things.

Until next time…

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