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Chattin’ With Nunis, May 1982

In early 1982, Walt Disney Productions was working full bore on the construction of EPCOT Center. Behind schedule and over budget, construction crews toiled around the clock to try and have the park ready for the October 1st opening date. In the meantime, Disney management scrambled to prepare both cast members and the public for what would be a very different type of theme park.

EPCOT Center under construction, 1982EPCOT Center under construction in early 1982. Click to enlarge.

When Walt Disney announced his plans for EPCOT in 1966, he described a vision for a city of the future to be built in Florida. The EPCOT Center that Walt Disney Productions began to promote in 1978 looked nothing like these original plans, scrapping the idea of a working city and replacing it with plans for a permanent World’s Fair. Many people at the time were confused by the shift; what happened to those fantastic futuristic vistas that Walt had promised us? And what will this new theme park actually be?

In May of 1982, Eyes & Ears, Walt Disney World’s internal Cast Member publication, attempted to answer those questions by reprinting a number of questions and answers drawn from a series of EPCOT Center Updates that had been held that March. Disney’s President of Outdoor Recreation, Dick Nunis, hosted the updates and gave the responses printed below. There’s a lot of interesting material here; not only Nunis’s transparent attempts to spin away the fact that EPCOT Center bears no resemblance to Walt’s EPCOT city, but also several mentions of impending projects at Walt Disney World that were never built.

Dick NunisDick Nunis sez “HOWAREYA?”

A Milestone In Dreaming And Doing

Q: Dick, there’s been a lot of discussion over a very important question: Have we deviated from Walt’s original concept of Epcot Center? How do you feel about this?

A: I can’t honestly say what we’d be doing now if Walt were here, but I don’t think we’ve deviated from his original concept. The thing that has haunted us for many years is the rendering done back in 1966. Walt believed very strongly that to sell a concept, a picture says a thousand words. So he had someone come up with this idea with a tower and the domed city, and what Walt was trying to do was sell a concept. He didn’t want to come to Florida and burden the local taxpayers with everything he knew he had to do. He wanted to show how, though the free enterprise system, a corporation could take virgin land and develop it without government subsidy.

The first thing we started out with was what we knew how to do … the Magic Kingdom, which is the Disneyland people know.

But what he really wanted to do was develop an area where all types of corporations, governments, and academia could come together to really try and solve some of the problems that exist in the world today. We started with the recreation area, and then began the community, which is Walt Disney World Village, and now we’re building the center … Epcot Center, and we’re going to connect it all with the monorail system.

I don’t think Walt ever intended to have a permanent resident population. I think he wanted to have a large tourist population and an area where people from all walks of life could come and learn.

I can remember when we got the final big parcel of our land which included Bay Lake. It was in the summer of 1966, and Walt called me up to his apartment in Disneyland, and he was really happy. He said, “Just think Dick, we own 43 square miles. That’s like getting on top of the Matterhorn and looking 7 miles one way and 11 miles the other. We’re going to be able to have our own Disneyland, our own Knott’s Berry Farm, our own Marineland and a couple of cities to boot.”

Well Walt, we’re almost there.

Q: What kind of attendance do we anticipate at Epcot Center?

A: When we open Epcot Center, we’ll release a combined attendance figure for both Epcot Center and the Magic Kingdom … a Walt Disney World attendance. Current attendance runs about 13 to 14 million people. We project 20 million people to visit Walt Disney World, per year. I think that’s conservative … I’ll tell you why. Right now we only penetrate 25 percent of Florida visitors. That leaves a lot of room for growth. We know for a fact that people are going down I-4 and passing by because they think we run a carousel.

I figure that Epcot Center will take on the magnitude of a World’s Fair because of the size … people are going to come to Epcot Center and they’re going to talk to other guests who have been in the Magic Kingdom, and I believe they are going to convince the others to visit the Magic Kingdom also.

We also believe that the European market will be very big for us. Last year 23 million foreign tourists visited the United States, and we only penetrated four percent of that. We believe that gives us great growth potential.

We’d also like to extend our guests’ length of stay from an admissions point of view. We won’t offer a one-day admission ticket that will be good for both the Magic Kingdom and Epcot Center. The reason for that? First of all, we’d be selling something that people couldn’t get their value out of and secondly, we’re trying to extend their length of stay. We’re going to market a three-day ticket that will be a very, very good value.

Q: What hours will Epcot Center operate?

A: Well, they’re subject to change, but these are what we have planned: during the slow season, Future World will open at 9 a.m. and World Showcase at 2 p.m., and both will close at 10 p.m. During the peak seasons, Future World will open, depending on demand, at 8 or 9 a.m. and World Showcase at 11 a.m. Both will close at midnight. We’re not going to change the operating hours for the Magic Kingdom.

Q: How will we staff Epcot Center?

A: We outlined the staffing procedure in the EYES & EARS several months ago. We’re going to need a staff of 3,000 people for Opening Day and that will break down to roughly 300 salaried and the balance in hourly classifications. There is one exception to our transfer-from-within policy … World Showcase. We’re trying to give the people a feeling that they’re actually in the country, so we want to theme the pavilions with the people from the different countries. That’s where the World Showcase Fellowship program comes in. Basically, this enables us to bring university students from other countries for one year to represent their country in World Showcase and to go to school together. It’s going to be a fantastic thing. We might just wind up with the greatest United Nations that’s ever been created.

Wouldn’t it be nice someday if a major power called another to say, “Hey! What’s going on?” because they knew each other way back when they worked at World Showcase at Walt Disney World.

We’ve committed ourselves to 100 of these students, and we’re going to look internally for these ethnic groups as well. If we cant’ find them internally, we’ll reach outside because we truly want to have Germans in the German pavilion and Italians in the Italian pavilion. We think that’s an extremely important part of the overall show.

Q: Will we ever expand Epcot Center?

A: Very definitely. Epcot Center will never be complete. We want to go ahead with the Seas pavilion and we feel there is a need for a Life and Health pavilion. Beyond that, there should be a Space pavilion, but we’ve put that on hold for now because the space industry is changing so rapidly.

In World Showcase we have nine countries to begin with: Canada, Great Britain, France, Japan, the United States, China, Italy, Mexico, and Germany, and there are eight other spaces available. We think they will fill up rather rapidly. We’ve signed a contract with Spain, and we’re negotiating with Israel. We’ll have an African pavilion. We’ll probably have a Scandinavian pavilion someday and we’ve also been talking with Venezuela. Now you see why I think those eight sites will fill up very rapidly.

We also have a blue-sky dream. On both sides of the American Adventure there is enough room to make a cut through and create another lagoon on the south side of the World Showcase where there are about five good building sites. The concept involved building a hotel in Australia for instance. If you’re staying in the hotel then you’re in World Showcase already, if you’re a day guest, you could take a cruise down to Australia or to the South Seas or other parts of the world. I think it’s a good concept and would be another way to generate more hotel space.

Q: Let’s talk about our plans outside Epcot Center. Do we have any plans of expanding the Magic Kingdom?

A: Very definitely, the Magic Kingdom will continue to grow. It’s designed to expand to the north in Fantasyland, and I’d like to bring the Matterhorn to the Magic Kingdom. It’d be the tallest Mountain in Florida. Our concept would be to put the Matterhorn over the train, creating a blizzard scene with real snow. Can you imagine people in July and August riding the train to get cool?

Q: What about the Tokyo Disneyland project?

A: Tokyo Disneyland, quite honestly, will be a fantastic success. Just imagine a local audience of 35 million within a 15-mile radius. Right now, we’re providing as much creative help to support them and get it open next March.

Q: Do we plan to expand our hotels?

A: Estimates say that this area is between 15,000 and 19,000 hotel rooms short. We’re worried about it. Right now we plan to expand the Polynesian Village, Golf Resort, and the Walt Disney World Village resort area.

We also have in design three hotels. The Mediterranean will be located between TTC and the Contemporary. The Cypress Point Lodge will be west of River Country and be themed as a western hotel. It’ll include log cabins along Bay Lake.

The third one, the Grand Floridian, we’ll build on the old Asian site on Seven Seas Lagoon. It will be a replica of the great Florida hotels of the early 1900’s. Our creative people came up with an absolutely beautiful design.

In addition, we have some dreams for the Walt Disney World Village. From the Empress Lilly, we’re going into a New Orleans street, and you’ll walk right into a beautiful New Orleans hotel.

Those are the kinds of things we can continue to do in the future here at Walt Disney World … I think the sky is the limit.

Let me finish by saying that the great strength of our company is our name. It’s internationally known, and the reason it has maintained a reputation is because of the job that all of you people do. The greatest asset Walt Disney World has is its people, and right now, I’d like to thank you. We’ve been going through some very difficult times, and thanks to all of your efforts, I think we’ve done an outstanding job.

Yes; the reason I have so much confidence in our company is because of all of you. We’re going to be doing a lot of things beyond Epcot Center … we’re going to create dreams that we might not have thought of yet. And the reason is because of you.

I want you to know that wherever you are, whatever you’re doing you are important and I appreciate what you’ve done in the past. I appreciate what you’re doing now, and I appreciate the job you are going to do in the future.

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4 comments to Chattin’ With Nunis, May 1982

  • Now THAT was awesome. ^^ You may never top me screaming about a bench in Liberty Square, but don’t worry – I’m not sure I ever will, either. I totally forgot about that part about the New Orleans street by the Empress Lilly so now I need to go back and revise my WDW Village article for Widen Your World AGAIN… lol.

  • On the topic of screaming about benches, ironically I had an opportunity to do so last night – in the little biographical film before Obama gave his acceptance speech, there was a montage of pics from his childhood. One of them was of him, his mom, and his sister sitting on what was clearly a Disney bench. And yes, I yelled “That’s at Disney!”

    I too had forgotten about the New Orleans Street being adjacent to the village when I started copying the article. That fact never ceases to amaze me. It also make me very sad, as how awesome would that have been? No PI, no West Side, but a highly themed New Orleans area right next to the Empress Lilly. I wonder how it wound up working its way up the Sassagoula to where it is now…

  • I oftentimes wonder how the course of WDW history would have been altered had things like the Asian, Persian, Venetian been built. Would those hotels have killed WDW’s economic feasibility had they been there on opening day as Paris’ hotel surplus did? If Western River Expedition been built instead of Space Mountain and Big Thunder Mountain, would the tide of Disney thrill rides been pushed back in favor of complex dark rides? If the Village’s New Orleans section been built would that have precluded Pleasure Island and the Village would still exist today in something near its’ original form? If Africa had been built at EPCOT does that mean we could have been spared Animal Kingdom?

    It’s pure fan speculation, of course, and I’m fairly sure, for example, that the EPCOT City would have probably destroyed the company had it been built in the late 70’s according to Walt Disney’s plans due to the fact that the public taste had by then turned away from futurism and towards nostalgia, which is why we have Celebration instead. Of course I won’t refute the very real possibility that EPCOT could have swayed public interest back towards futurism had it been built…

  • regis

    While I enjoyed the interview, this guy is a total traitor for this comment: “I don’t think Walt ever intended [EPCOT] to have a permanent resident population.”

    They had plans for residential housing, apartments, schools, real city planning improvements. Walt’s final dream was to improve the standard of living for the WORLD, not boost the entertainment industry.

    Foxx – We have Celebration because of men in suits, not because of public taste. We are still stuck in car-centric neighborhoods because businessmen copy what works, they don’t like taking risks. Walt took risks, and invented the theme park. Just think what else he could have accomplished if the people in charge of his legacy had believed in him.

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