By Randal Charlton
It was Hollywood in the early 1960s. The phone rang in the office of Ellis Arnall, the president of the Motion Picture Association.
“Hi, Ellis. It’s Walt, Walt Disney. Listen Ellis, I have a job for you. I want to open up a Disney World on the East Coast, and I figure Orlando is the perfect location. I would really appreciate it if you would get over there and quietly buy up as much land as you can. You own some cattle back in Georgia, don’t you, so you will not cause too much of a fuss acquiring a few million acres of property in a neighboring state.”
The distinguished former governor sat back in his chair and mopped his brow. “Walt, have you ever been to Orlando? It’s a tiny cow town surrounded by swamp land that is fit to grow poor grass and plenty of palmetto trees and harbor big ole gators and poisonous snakes. There isn’t a decent airport, and the hotels may be okay for cracker cowboys, but they don’t fuss about sharing accommodation with roaches. Besides, Orlando is on the route to nowhere.”
“Trust me, Ellis, we’re going to turn Orlando and Mosquito County into a tourist Mecca. I’ve mailed a check to your law office. Just buy low. Mickey Mouse and I will sell high.”
And so a man with vision and a man with smarts began the process of turning an insignificant few streets bordered by live oaks draped with Spanish moss into one of the world’s great tourist destinations and a major American city.
I thought about the rise of Orlando today as everyone was wailing and gnashing their teeth at the news that Detroit had lost one quarter of its population. To some it was confirmation that the city was on an irreversible path to obscurity.
So the phone rings again and it’s Walt Disney. The guy at the other end of the phone is Henry Ford.
“Hi Henry, this is Walt Disney. Listen, I’d appreciate your help. I want to turn Detroit into the center of American innovation and art and entrepreneurship, the hub of NAFTA trade, a model for the new American city of the 21st century and the place that leads the world out of recession. It’s the perfect location, we have plenty of water–an increasingly precious resource and …”
“Land is at rock bottom prices,” says the founder of Ford Motor Company, picking up on Walt’s words. “There are millions of square feet of empty office space going begging, factories are available at giveaway prices and the United States is still the biggest market in the world. It’s the perfect first location for new immigrants who are three times more entrepreneurial than native-born Americans.”
“There is a massive surplus of housing at all sizes,” Ford continue. “You can buy a palace for next to nothing, and–get this–Wayne State University, the Henry Ford Health System and the Detroit Medical Center are even offering financial incentives to buy or rent a house.”
“You got it!” says Walt with conviction. “This is an easy deal compared to persuading families to vacation in cracker country. There are no gators or snakes.”
“There is just one problem,” says Henry, rubbing his chin. “You and I are ghosts. We would never get a notary public to certify our signatures.”
There is a long pause on the other end of the phone. “You have a point,” concedes Walt. “But aren’t there still 714,000 live bodies in the city we could get to come in on the deal?”
For details of housing subsidies and grants, visit http://livemidtown.org/.