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CELINA, TX-The buzz from an urban legend has quieted down with Super Bowl XLI and its hype relegated to the history books. The outstanding question still is whether or not it’s fact or fiction that Walt Disney Co. has 12,000 to 15,000 acres under contract in northwestern Collin County.

About every two years, the Disney rumor circulates in North Texas. The last time, it was Kaufman County to the southeast. The rumor’s frequency has created a culture of skeptics in economic development circles while brokers, sticking true to their profession, are jousting for position should it pan out.

Nonetheless, everyone’s heard the recent chatter; the advice was lay low to see if the deal was announced Super Bowl weekend, as predicted, or shortly thereafter. The question still lingers, thanks to Disney’s 2007 investors’ conference which aired dreams of several “Blue Sky” concepts–development strategies for regional resorts, niche parks and retail, restaurant and entertainment complexes.

“These are ideas that could be executed domestically or overseas,” Jay Rasulto, chairman of the Burbank, CA-based Walt Disney Parks and Resorts, recently told analysts and shareholders. “But, they won’t be executed at all if we don’t believe they would generate the return on invested capital that we expect to achieve from our businesses.”

Texas’ major economic development wins are credited to a business-friendly atmosphere, Central US positioning for easy coast to coast travel and the deep pockets of the state’s enterprise fund. Celina is positioned midway between the region’s top-growth cities of Frisco and McKinney and 40 miles from Downtown Dallas, a corridor boasting higher average annual incomes as more elite residential developments come on line where dirt is cheap and abundant.

From an economic development perspective, Ray Smith, president of the City of Prosper’s EDC, says “my personal opinion is some landowner is trying to close some deals.” Not only has he too heard the buzz, but he also knows land speculation is practically a daily occurrence in the far northern tier due to the expansion path of the Dallas North Tollway.

Land wheelers and dealers in the far north sector say it’s too early to fully dismiss the rumor. “It’s who we’re hearing the rumors from this time,” says one broker who asked to remain anonymous. “There seems to be more validity this time based on the people who are talking about it.”

From Disney’s perspective, Rasulto says the company mission is to “position itself for strong growth for the next decade and beyond.” The “imagineers” are evaluating the merits of taking existing business lines from proven successes at Disneyland and Disney World and creating stand-alone facilities like regional resort properties near major metros, niche retail, restaurant and entertainment complexes or even a theme mix to act as a revitalization catalyst for the right downtown.

Disney’s research shows 71% of the travel business goes to a major US city while 29% head to a theme park, one-third to golf or beach destinations and one-fourth to the outdoors or a national park. One idea being kicked around is to expand its “Grand” hotel brand into metros, where Disney has found “hotels are lacking theme, storytelling and great details” that it provides at its park properties.

Rasulto adds not all “Blue Sky” concepts will come to fruition, but all are being evaluated. The one certainty is it will take a major metro, like Dallas/Fort Worth, for the dream to come true.

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