ST. LOUIS, Mo. – A very public feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and The Walt Disney Company has one Texas judge asking the company to relocate to the Lone Star state. The company may want to reconsider its original plan to build a theme park in the middle of the United States.
Disney World would have been built in St. Louis in the 1960s if there had not been a dispute between city leaders, Anheuser Busch, and the company. Legend was that the plan in St. Louis fizzled because Anheuser-Busch beer baron August A. Busch Jr. insisted that the theme park sell beer, and Disney refused to do so.
Florida Gov. DeSantis signed a bill into law to dissolve a private government controlled by Disney that provides municipal-like services for its 27,000 acres in the Sunshine State. The new law is largely seen as retribution for Disney’s criticism of a new state law that critics have dubbed “Don’t Say Gay,” which bars instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.
St. Louis may have had the same sort of private government controlled by Disney if efforts to build “Walt Disney’s Riverfront Square” succeeded. The Reedy Creek Improvement District, as the Disney government is known, was created in 1967 to support economic development and tourism. The unique mix of government and business was able to transform nearly 40 square miles of remote swamp land into a world-class tourist destination.
Walt Disney was born in Chicago in 1901 and his family moved to a farm in Marceline, Missouri when he was just a kid. That is where he developed a fondness for drawing before they moved to Kansas City where he started to learn about how to make movies.
Disneyland’s iconic “Main Street USA” is inspired by Walt’s time growing up in the small town. With the success of the theme park in Anaheim, California, Disney sought to develop other unique parks around the country. In 1963, he proposed a five-story, all-indoor theme park covering two city blocks to be constructed in downtown St. Louis.
“Riverfront Square,” was to feature rides and attractions inspired by the city itself, as well as the Mississippi River, and the City of New Orleans. According to a 10-part history on the project, August Busch Jr. and Walt Disney engaged in—but quickly settled—a quarrel over alcohol sales at the park. The theme park would be housed in a giant dome.
When the time came to figure out construction spending, Disney insisted the city cover the cost of building the dome itself, while he would pay for the rides and other attractions within. The Civic Center Redevelopment Corporation, the city’s “economic development arm,” was not keen on spending millions of dollars for Disney’s theme park.
Was it the beer? An article from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch speculates Disney may have been reluctant to spend more money on the Riverfront Square project when he was investing large amounts of capital on land and development in Orlando, Florida.
The only known existing blueprints for the failed Riverfront Square development were auctioned off in December 2015 for $27,000.