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  1. Disney Assembled Cast Of Buyers To Amass Land Stage For Kingdom FLASHBACK - ORANGE COUNTY HISTORY By Mark Andrews, of The Sentinel Staff May 30, 1993 Working under a strict cloak of secrecy, real estate agents who didn't know the identity of their client began making offers to landowners in southwest Orange and northwest Osceola counties in April 1964 - shortly after Walt Disney chose the site for his new theme park. Careful not to let property owners know the extent of their land-buying appetites, the agents quietly negotiated one deal after another - sometimes lining up contracts to buy huge tracts for little more than $100 an acre. Walt Disney Productions attorney Paul Helliwell had set up dummy corporations - with such names as Latin American Development and Management Corp. and Reedy Creek Ranch Corp. - in Miami to act as purchasers of the land. To make the deals, Helliwell worked through Roy Hawkins, a Miami real estate consultant. Hawkins contacted Nelson Boice, president of Florida Ranch Lands Inc., an Orlando realty firm, and ''expressed a casual interest in a 'super-sized' parcel of land,'' according to a November 1965 news account. Swearing their office staff to secrecy, the Realtors began assembling information from Orange and Osceola county tax rolls on the ownership of land in the area in which the ''mystery industry'' was interested. Next came the job of securing options to buy the property. The deal-makers made telephone calls to the owners - many of them out of state. Most were delighted to sell. Some, who had received their land through inheritances, had never even seen it. Because they knew that recording the first deeds would trigger an intense wave of public questioning about what was going on, Disney's representatives waited until they had a large number of parcels locked up through options before filing their paper work. Most of the land transactions were handled in cash to eliminate a paper trail. The first purchases, recorded on May 3, 1965, included one for 8,380 acres of swamp and brush from state Sen. Ira Bronson at a price of $107 an acre. The deal had been made seven months earlier. The first newspaper account of the large-scale interest in Orange and Osceola county property ran the next day. The May 4 Orlando Sentinel story said the transactions ''will undoubtedly increase rumors already afloat for the past year to the effect that a new and large industrial complex is about to locate in this area.'' Indeed it did. Because of the proximity to Cape Kennedy, much speculation centered on space or aircraft technology, Stephen M. Fjellman wrote in his 1992 book, Vinyl Leaves: Walt Disney World and America. Carmakers' names, especially Ford, also were mentioned. Former Orlando banker Billy Dial, who also was involved in the negotiations, said a Florida Power Corp. executive called him at about that time to ask what Ford would do with all that land. He wondered if the utility should plan to provide power. On May 20, an Orlando Sentinel article acknowledged the persistent rumor that ''the land is being purchased for a second East Coast Disneyland attraction.'' But the paper discounted the gossip because Walt Disney had specifically denied it during a recent visit to Cape Kennedy. Disney told the newspaper he was spending $50 million to expand Disneyland and was not interested in another such venture at that time. Within three weeks of recording the Bronson transaction, Florida Ranch Lands had wrapped up deals with 47 owners. Eventually, Boice and his associates negotiated agreements with 51 owners to buy some 27,400 acres for more than $5 million - an average price of $182 per acre. Disney intended to announce his ownership of the land and his plans for Walt Disney World on Nov. 15, 1965. But the secret wouldn't keep that long. In October 1965 Emily Bavar, editor of the Sentinel's Florida magazine, was in Anaheim with five other journalists to tour Disneyland as Disney's guests. During repeated interviews with Walt Disney, Bavar tried to pin the entertainment magnate down on whether his company was the buyer of all that Florida real estate. Disney would neither confirm nor deny the rumors. But Bavar learned enough in California to convince her. On Oct. 21, 1965, a story by Bavar predicted Disney would build a new theme park on the huge tract. After piecing together more information, the paper led its Sunday edition three days later with a story headlined, ''We Say: 'Mystery' Industry Is Disney.'' With the mouse out of the bag, Disney scrapped his plans for a formal announcement and allowed Gov. Haydon Burns to confirm the next day, Oct. 25, that he intended to build ''the greatest attraction in the history of Florida'' in Orange County.
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