Disney, Inc., ultimatum corporation that freeloads on taxpayers, wants to build a history theme park in northern Virginia as a camouflage for a massive real estate development in the beautiful, historic countryside around Haymarket.
Secretly buying rights to 3000 acres of land, and probably more yet to be disclosed expansions, Disney went partially public last November with its announcement. It demanded a taxpayer handout package for roads, interchanges and other infrastructure to benefit a private land investment. The preliminary cost of this raid on taxpayers is $163.2 million by a company that reported record profits and whose top executive, Michael Eisner, himself made over $200 million in 1993 from salary and exercised stock options.
The new Governor, George Allen, jumped like a Disney puppet when he received the subsidy demand. He roared his approval of corporate socialism and bullied the legislature to do the same.
Some dittoheaded legislators followed him like lemmings. But other lawmakers cried “wait a minute,” declaring they wanted at least some details of Disney’s plans and a more prudent way for Disney to pay for some of these public projects for private profit.
Disney went into high gear, retaining over two dozen Richmond lawyers full time, a clutch of public relations firms, consultants and Washington greasehands.
You want to be a paid consultant to Disney, just have a reasonable reputation as a civil war scholar and you’re on the payroll, especially if you started out critical of the project and the honky tonk commercial strips that build up around Disney’s fun spots. There are civil war battlefields nearby that wouldn’t look good between neon signs and motels.
Still some legislators balked at the imperiousness — with a smile — tactics of Disney’s lobbyists. Some lawmakers suggested a $1.00 admissions tax to pay for the roads and other public works. Disney said, “no deal.” Zappo for the admissions tax proposal. Others wondered why Disney wanted the taxpayers of Virginia to pay for relocating equipment to its northern Virginia site or to pay for a promotional center on Disney property for Disney’s amusement park.
The Senate and House bills were very welfare-intensive to Disney, but to keep a smidgeon of self-respect, the bills were not everything that Disney demanded. Enter Disney heavy, Mark Pacala, the proposed project’s general manager. In a letter to the lawmakers, he demanded the entire original subsidy package or else there would be no project.
Part of what is eating at the craws of some Virginia legislators is that knowtowing to Disney would open the floodgates for all corporate developers to demand equal welfare. Thus far, the state of Virginia’s policy has been to attract industry with weak labor laws, an allegation of good schools and a pro-business, anti-consumer and environment government. If Disney gets Mickey Mouse on the welfare gravy train, other companies will be similarly insistent.
What about earlier entertainment parks who built in Virginia without collaring the taxpayers? What about long time Virginia businesses who have been paying their taxes without handouts for decades? These are good questions to ponder. Which is why Disney wants to ram its legislative goodies through quickly before it has to disclose more details about its far more extensive plans for its city — commercial office space, residential units and its low wage, few benefits, labor practices that some planners say, would impose even more public costs for facilities and services.
Disney could build its fictitious American history theme park by buying up some creaking commercial strips and malls and using that land. That is too reasonable an environmental alternative and not as cheap as the open fields option near Haymarket. So Disney is racing as a hare to close the deal.
But now comes the tortoise in the form of an aroused citizenry who know that already congested highways will become more congested, more polluted and scarce ground water more depleted. Historical preservationists are organizing. Environmental groups, including local and national ones, such as the Sierra Club, the Environmental Defense Fund and the Natural Resources Defense Council, are gearing up appeals to courts that cannot be bought with campaign money and other perks.
The landed gentry in the area is beginning to loosen its purse strings in a classic struggle between one bastion of old wealth against the tinsel towers of new wealth.
The growing opposition forces to this misguided and secretly planned Disney project will carry their causes to Orlando and Anaheim where communities, once overenthused with Disney’s arrival, now see the enormous costs the company inflicts on the public sector for services and facilities that it does not pay its fair share for, due to its tax-exempt and abatement deals.
Disney, mired in controversy month after month, with more being disclosed from the company’s large closet of secrets is not good for its fantasy image, not good for Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck, Bambi and other lucrative trademarked characters.
The prediction here is that the tortoise will win the race against the hare. The Disnoids should cut their losses and let Virginia’s real historical settings continue in unbesmirched dignity.