Disney sells some of its world
Disney sells some of its world
The theme-park giant and huge landowner has sold off 100 acres recently and has a 30-acre parcel on the market.
Sentinel Staff Writer
March 28, 2006
Walt Disney World is selling off chunks of excess land on the fringes of its empire, allowing developers to pursue their own real-estate magic.
Disney recently sold 53 acres on Sherberth Road south of Disney's Animal Kingdom to a developer who wants to build hundreds of vacation town homes and condominium units, and another 47 acres on Reams Road, north of the Magic Kingdom, to a home builder.
Another 30 acres is for sale on U.S. Highway 192. And more may be put on the market as soon as the company re-evaluates its vast land holdings in Central Florida, particularly parcels on the far edges.
Disney spokeswoman Andrea Finger said the company is evaluating its Central Florida land holdings to see what fits into its long-term plans and what doesn't.
Disney owns 27,000 acres in southwest Orange and northwest Osceola counties, most of it purchased in the 1960s when Walt Disney stealthily assembled his holdings before the public learned of his plans to build Disney World. Much of the acreage makes up the area of and around Disney's theme parks, water parks, golf courses, shopping and hotel and time-share resorts between U.S. 192, State Road 429, Reams Road and Interstate 4.
The new deals may illustrate a shift in thinking for Disney.
Finger, spokeswoman for Walt Disney Imagineering, Disney's park planning division, said the 47-acre deal Disney made in December and the 53-acre deal in February are the first for the company in a while, other than land in the Little Lake Bryan and Celebration planned communities.
"With such significant land holdings in Central Florida, our strategy is to manage and develop land resources in ways that promote and enhance and complement our core businesses," Finger said.
Disney is not talking about the 30-acre tract, except to say it is in contract. Yet Disney asked its government agency, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, to de-annex the property, which is on U.S. 192, west of the Animal Kingdom Lodge.
The latest land deals are different from those at Celebration or Little Lake Bryan. Disney fully planned those two communities. The company transferred property in both areas to subsidiaries, which developed the communities and sold off the properties as they were developed. Those sales began in 1994 and still are continuing, Finger said.
The land in the latest deals would be governed by Orange or Osceola county planning and zoning codes, but would otherwise be outside Disney's master plans.
Susan Lawrence, president of Real Estate Strategies in Orlando, said Disney is finding a great time to sell. Prices are at an all-time high. Demand is high, and supply is tight, especially around Disney, she said.
"Like stock, when the prices are extraordinarily high, you're going to sell, especially if there's no long-term strategic use for it," Lawrence said. "That still leaves them with -- what? -- 26,000-plus acres?"
Such sales have been rare for Disney in recent years.
The most recent before December was in 2000, when Disney sold the 40-acre Crossroads at Lake Buena Vista, off State Road 535, for $15.8 million.
Other theme parks in town also have unloaded excess property in the past decade. In 2003, Universal Orlando sold 1,800 acres along Sand Lake Road after deciding it no longer wanted to build a third theme park there.
Since Anheuser-Busch bought SeaWorld in 1989, the company has sold off several hundred acres around Central Florida that were not contiguous to the park.
Last week Disney asked the Reedy Creek Board of Supervisors to begin steps to drop the 30-acre parcel from the agency's jurisdiction. Reedy Creek, a government agency set up by the Florida Legislature, provides utility, fire, emergency medical and other public services to Disney's property.
Normally, when Disney sells land that is governed by Reedy Creek the company asks the agency to de-annex the land so that any new landowners would not share the district's services and would not have any votes in Reedy Creek affairs.
Reedy Creek Executive Director C. Ray Maxwell said his agency is prepared to receive more de-annexation requests from Disney.
"They have gone around and looked at the entire property, the perimeter of the property, and said, OK, does this really fit into future development plans or not?" Maxwell said. "And if it doesn't, is there a market for it?"
Maitland-based Centex Homes bought the 47-acre Reams Road property for $4.8 million. Division President Pat Knight said Centex likes the property, but the company has not yet decided what to do with it.
Sherberth Development Partners, an investment group out of New York and Chicago, paid $15.4 million for the 53 acres. Orlando-based Resorts Development Group will develop the property. President Steve Parker said plans call for vacation homes, including short-term rental homes.
Parker said his company got an unexpected chance to buy the Disney property.
Resorts Development already was planning a 40-acre development next door when it learned that Disney would sell the 53-acre parcel. Knowing how rarely Disney has sold its Central Florida holdings, his investors immediately stepped up to buy it, he said.
"We like to think it was real-estate genius, but it was really dumb luck," he said. "They said, 'We just decided today to start selling some of it.' We said, 'OK, we'll buy it.' "