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Thread: Celebration Downtown sold

  1. #1

    Celebration Downtown sold

    Disney has sold the downtown of Celebration, FL to Lexin Capital Group.

    I don't have the link, there is an AP story breaking. Celebration's sale was featured on CNBC with Brian Williams tonight, in what I thought was an attempt to portray the town as a failed project by Disney. The town manager did a good job of portraying the town as being down to Earth, which it is in many ways... despite having been built and micromanaged by a multinational corporation during the post-Wells Eisner regime. I could go on and on.

    Celebration was built on a high, high PR pedestal, and people have been trying to knock it down from the very beginning. Disney created sales hype and failed to produce a few too many times. There is no question whatsoever that there have been some problems. The thing is, it really is a real town, with real people who have genuine feelings and a strong emotional committment to the community.

    Despite what you may hear, Disney is not "ending" its presence in Celebration, and I can't imagine why the press holds onto that notion.

    Click here to read the story


    [Mod. note: Copyrighted article removed and replaced with link to original story. -- Mark]

    Last edited by Mark Goldhaber; 01-21-2004 at 08:03 PM.

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  4. #3
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    Teri- you were the first person I thought off when I heard about this. How are the people taking it down there? I saw a special on pie making contest in Celebration and it looked like a nice place.


  5. #4

    I like living in Celebration, and I think it has a lot of promise.

    What do people here think? I can't speak for them. What do I think? Well, I think it is like all the other changes going on with Disney. The closing of Walt Disney Feature Animation here in Orlando is a terrible blow, and many people are stunned about that. It is a loss to the community. The Celebraiton Company (Disney) makes a case that selling the downtown is a natural evolution of a business plan, to sell off a business asset to focus on other long-term goals or some such double-speak. They are certainly capitalizing on the Celebration "brand" along with all the other logo-fied elements of the town (the golf course sold last year, Market Street sold to Lexin, the new sub-subdivision Artisan Park) in a community that is on the verge of being built-out.

    The bottom line is that Disney didn't do Celebration right, and everybody knows it. Problem is, Disney isn't "Disney" anymore. And nowhere on Earth is that more evident than Celebration. Disney started this town with a vision that was incredible -- New Urbanism, High Technology, "Best Practices" Education in a community school with cutting edge technology and strong academic support, a strong sense of community and belonging. They didn't deliver, or at least they only got started and didn't follow through. You need to keep some historical context here - Wells died right after Celebration was founded, and this town has been run under the direction of the Eisner regime.

    Celebration is a town with strong sentimental traditions, even though it is only about 8 years old. It is reflected in the architecture, the culture, and the attitudes. You have to remember that this is the heart of Florida, where there have been generations of real estate entrepreneurs who have bought up swamp land on I.O.U.s and sold it to dream-struck tourists and refugees from the harsh north. They have it down to a science. Disney can sell swamp-land to unsuspecting tourists like nobody else can, because they have the ultimate fantasyland right next door. You see, when you buy into Celebration, they are actively selling you on living within the Disney domain. You buy for the Disney sizzle, the Disney reputation for quality and guest service. Folks, there is no "Guest Services" in Celebration. You buy into this town, you get treated more like an inmate when you have a problem or complaint. If you really complain, they put an incredible guilt trip on you -- they have this down to an institutional science. "How can you complain (about not getting what you paid big bucks for) when there are so many people who are living in poverty in this county? You should support the community by volunteering through the Celebration Foundation, and for heaven's sake don't say anything that will lower your property values!" The Celebration Foundation has a volunteer referral center that sends people out to other nonprofit agencies -- it is essentially a PR arm of the Celebration Company, which promotes the image of the community. They work hard to protect the image. They also do some good things for the community, at a price. This is a real estate development! They want to sell houses - they make money selling houses and renting apartments. But once you are here, what do they care if you are not satisfied with a job half-done? If you don't like it, move so another real estate agent can make a commission. I am not exaggerating when I tell you, since we bought this house in September, we have received at least one local real estate agent solicitation per week asking us if we want to sell our house. We just moved in! I would expect solicitations to buy investment property, but no... they expect high turnover here. :::sigh:::

    The town was built fast, and construction quality was not always what it should have been... but that is true throughout the Orlando area. The place looks beautiful, and people who stay here do work hard to maintain their homes. There is a genuine sense of community pride about the homes and environs.

    The downtown -- basically serves tourists. There is no hardware store or bakery, no real news stand. There are lots of restaurants and high end shops, plus a boutique luxury hotel. If you haven't seen it, think of the Boardwalk area near Epcot, and imagine a small town instead of a seaside resort theme. This isn't New Urbanism -- it is New Suburban Tourism. People come here to see the cute little hometown-themed suburb, but the people who live here drive several miles out to get their groceries and hardware. When they have 'events' at Market Street, the residents are just out of luck - traffic is a nightmare, and the administration of the events and town adn downtown are so diffuse that it is a shell game -- nobody is really responsible for anything. You can keep getting referred to some other number to call until you just give up -- that is pretty much how they handle resident concerns around here. (Either that or you are encouraged to volunteer for a committee... committees! Yikes!)

    The school -- THE reason many people moved here was the hype around the school. The school was always in transition. There are lawsuits pending by parents who feel they were fraudulently induced to move here because of what they were told was available at the school. Disney made a huge mistake when they didn't make the school private, or at least a charter school. The bottom line is that this school is run by one of the poorest school districts in Florida. They can't afford the upkeep on all that technology, so it outdates and languishes. About 66% of high school kids in this district are not reading at grade level. This year they opened Celebration High School, which is on the bottom edge of the swamps of Celebration as far from the town center as one can get. The corporate sponsors are all but gone. Less than 1/3 of the kids there are from Celebration, and the teachers who were enticed here to work at this cutting edge innovative school are finding themselves using every ounce of their imaginations and creativity to educate kids who are 28% Limited English Proficiency, many from below-poverty-level families, transient families, or even scraping by on their own. That has been one of the biggest shocks for the community... but it is also a galvanizing force for many of the teachers who are highly dedicated to providing a quality education to every kid in that school. They put on a school musical last week that was diverse, inclusive and phenomenal. Any group of teachers, administrators and suporters who can create a production like that will be able to make that high school work. The transition has been rough, but there is promise ahead.

    The elementary/middle school is not what we had hoped it would be. After all the hype about community and personalized education plans for kids, we were shocked. My daughter is still there and doing OK, but I had to pull my son from the awful special education program there and place him in a private school about 30 minutes away -- we got lucky when we found that school, which is everything Celebration School was advertised to be but wasn't.

    The drama opportunities are not what they thought they would be here -- everything is big-production musicals driven by perfectionistic adults who expect near-professional quality. No little plays, no Shakespeare or Dickens or community theater as we had hoped there would be here in town. We are disappointed about that, but all the folks in town who have highly talented kids who have had lots of pro singing and dancing lessons have the opportunities they want. It is good for them.

    This is a beautiful town. Beautiful. We have a nice house, nice neighbors. The theater here is awesome. I have gained 15 pounds since moving here from all the great restaurants. (Yikes!) We watch the Epcot and MGM fireworks over the rooftops from our windows upstairs. There is an alligator living in the retention pond/lake across the street, plus a variety of beautiful shore birds. The cats are happy, the kids are happy, my husband's 300o mile telecommute is working out beautifully (he has his Sunrays set up on a VPN to California -- waaaaay cool.) so he is happy. We are getting settled in.

    I hope the new company takes on the original Celebration vision. That would be a very good thing. I hope they don't take on the diffuse, short-term profit-motivated vision of the recent past. I think these guys have a chance to make something really great -- we will see if they are up to the task.


  6. #5

    That's a helluva post!


  7. #6
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    Thank you Teri, I was hearing bits and pieces, and your thoughtful summary really helped. I went to a college that was small and odd (Reed college) and one teacher said that even if you just brought the students together in a parking lot- you'd still get a lot of what made the education great. It was the people pulled to that school, pulled by the image and goals- that reinforsed those goals and made them real. It sounds like that is the hope for Celebration. It is part of what keeps Disney still Disney dispite corperate loss of vision. We know why we come. I hope you and your family continue to make the best of your situation iin Celebration. I also hope you get a bakery, a hardware store, and a really amatur theater group!


  8. #7

    mckat, I understand that Reed was a lot like my alma mater, UC Santa Cruz, back in the old days (late '70s) as something of a utopian vision with unique and innovated teaching practices. I guess that kind of thing appeals to me... hadn't thought of it that way before.

    There is a new shopping center going in at the corner of Celebration Ave and 192 -- downtown will probably remain a tourist destination, but not the walkable New Urbanism vision it was in the past.


  9. #8
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    Upstate New York

    So now I have a new life goal-- to open a bakery in Celebration


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