Third Disney Resort for the US?

Disney rumor reignited

Newton County officials [South West Missouri] told of possible theme park plans.

Kathryn Buckstaff Springfield MO.

A request for road improvements for a $1.1 billion theme park in Newton County has led to new speculation about the Walt Disney Co.'s interest in southwest Missouri.
Rumors that a Disney attraction was coming to Branson were rampant in the mid-1990s. Now, Newton County Commissioners are investigating whether Disney could be linked to a theme park proposal made earlier this month.

Jerry Carter, Newton County Presiding Commissioner, said the notion arose after Todd Marshall, who said he represented a Springfield company called ARM Risk, attended the April 12 commissioners' meeting. Carter asked about changes on county roads leading to the location the company is considering for a theme park.

A list of specifications Marshall gave the commissioners included first-phase construction costs of $1.1 billion, land purchases of 1,000 acres with the park taking 100 acres, six hotels, 95 shops, 27 rides, 12 stages and 18 restaurants.

"We want to be cautious and careful," Carter said. "We live in an opportunistic world and sometimes things come along we can't even conceive of."

A possible Disney connection was raised when commissioners checked the company owners. On a form called "Registration of Fictitious Name" filed with the Missouri Secretary of State's office in March for ARM Risk, three owners are listed. Corporations routinely file such forms.

The owners are Michael Hill of Wilmington, Del.; Robert Brown, who lists his address as 500 South Buena Vista St., Burbank, Calif.; and Jason Johnson, who lists his address as Corporate Office, Lake Buena Vista, Fla.

On the Internet, commissioners found that the Burbank address is corporate headquarters of the Walt Disney Co. Lake Buena Vista, Fla., is headquarters of Walt Disney World Resort.

Officials at Disney headquarters in Burbank said the company would not comment on the matter.

The secretary of state's office has only an administrative role in filing business registrations, said communications assistant Ryan Hobart.

When someone signs the registration, he or she is legally bound to give correct information, Hobart said.

ARM Risk's address is listed as 1926 S. Glenstone Ave., Suite 353, Springfield, on the registration.

Todd Marshall could not be reached for comment. No phone listing could be obtained for ARM Risk.

Carter, who is 71, is a Newton County native. He said that such a project would forever change the county. The area where the company is seeking to buy land is mostly small acreage and some farms of 60 to 100 acres, Carter said. It is in the southwest quadrant of the junction of U.S. 71 and Interstate 44.

Some residents would be interested in the project, and some wouldn't, he predicted.

"We're right between two of the largest growth areas in southwest Missouri and northwest Arkansas, so we are becoming accustomed to shock here," Carter said. Just to the south is the Bentonville area and to the north is Joplin.

"It'll never be what it used to be."

In Branson, Herschend Family Entertainment spokes- woman Lisa Rau said they had not heard of the plans. The company owns the Silver Dollar City and Celebration City theme parks and other attractions.

Ross Summers, director of the Branson Lakes/Area Chamber of Commerce, said he also had heard of no such plans by Disney.

"These Disney rumors have floated around here for as long as I can remember," Summers said.

Developer Glenn Patch heard lots of Disney rumors after he purchased 7,000 acres of land just south of Hollister in the early '90s. His land is now the site of two golf courses, upscale homes and a commercial airport in development.

"When I was first coming here, I thought about painting a pair of black ears on my plane just for the fun of it," Patch said.

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