Disney: Why Not Maryland?

September 30, 1994

When the Walt Disney Co. conducted the confidential study that led to the selection of a site in the Virginia countryside for a theme park focused on American history, it apparently didn't take into account a distinctive feature of the Washington region: This is an area where significant numbers of people are savvy about government and know how to make their voices heard. For a corporation that thrives on an image of wholesomeness, it must have been painful indeed to be denounced by eminent historians as well as by beloved public figures ranging from the late Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to the wise and witty Russell Baker.

Like the Marriott Corporation, which ran into similar opposition when it proposed a theme park near Columbia a couple of decades ago, Disney has thrown in the towel -- at least for the site it had selected in rural Prince William County. Company officials are saying they are open to other sites in Virginia, but those assurances may be just to ease the disappointment of state and local officials who were hungry for the economic benefits the project was expected to bring.

A question: Why not Maryland? Disney's decision has consequences for this state, which would have enjoyed some economic spin-offs had the original project gone forward. But this turn of events offers state officials a chance to get back in the conversation.

If Disney proceeds with a theme park in this area, there are sites in Maryland that should be attractive to the company and less offensive to environmentalists and preservationists. Unlike Virginia, Maryland has long recognized the value of investing in good road systems and other public facilities that could support a project of Disney's magnitude. That foresight could pay off now.

Disney's surprise announcement is a victory for preservationists who worried about the effects of the development on nearby historic sites, especially Civil War battlefields. More important, it offers a reprieve from the massive development that has come to characterize an increasingly gridlocked northern Virginia region. It may be a fruitless wish, but we would hope this set-back would prod planning officials in the area to widen their vision.

Prince William County's prize would have boosted the county treasury, but at a high price to the region. The clogged roadways and increased air pollution feared by environmentalists would RTC have been only part of it. The project could have spurred development of almost as much commercial space as now exists in downtown Washington, D.C., at a time when there is fierce competition to find enough tenants for existing space in the region.

As foreign as it may seem to politics as usual, the fact is that regional cooperation is the key to finding solutions to problems of economic growth.

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