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Why For did Phase II of Epcot's World Showcase never get built?

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Why For did Phase II of Epcot's World Showcase never get built?

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Annoyed in Anaheim writes in to say:

I have to say that I was very disappointed with the Disney Parks & Resorts presentation at the D23 EXPO. They didn't announce anything significant for Walt Disney World. You'd think, given that it's been almost a quarter of a century since a new country was last added to the World Showcase, that they could have at least announced a new international pavilion for Epcot.

Dear Annoyed in Anaheim,

Ah, but just because they announced a new country for Epcot's World Showcase area doesn't mean that Disney will actually ever get around to building it.

Concept art for the interior of World Showcase's proposed Venezuela pavilion.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Don't believe me? Then check out this official press release that Walt Disney World officials issued on  November 10, 1981, which reveals that ...

... Venezuela has become the fifth South American country to join the community of nations in WDW Epcot Center with the signing of a Contract for Design of a Venezuelan pavilion for Phase II of the World Showcase.

The World Showcase is part of Epcot Center, a showplace for today's nations and tomorrow's technology. Epcot Center will open October 1, 1982 and will cost $800 million. Gustavo J. Vollmer, Chairman of Consorio Inversionista Mercantil J Agricola (CIMA) in Caracas and Card Walker, Chairman of the Board and Chief Executive of Walt Disney Productions signed the preliminary participation agreement at Walt Disney World.

The Venezuelan pavilion joins a number of countries and areas of the world scheduled for addition to the eight inaugural World Showcase nations. They include: Mexico, China, Germany, Italy, Japan, France, the United Kingdom and Canada. Venezuela, the State of Israel and Equatorial Africa are among the Phase II pavilions planned.

Photograph of the sign that was in place for Epcot's opening day on October 1,
1982, designating where World Showcase's Spain pavilion was going to be
built. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Better yet, how about this press release from December of that same year. When Disney World proudly announced that ...

Spain (has joined) the growing list of countries in the community of nations at Epcot Center with the signing of a contract for the design of a Spain pavilion for Phase II of World Showcase.

D. Aurlio Torrente LaRosa, director of ECCE (Exposiciones Congresos y Convencione & Espana), on behalf of the Ministry of Transportation, Tourism and Communications for Spain, and Dick Nunis, president of Walt Disney World Co. signed the preliminary design agreement.

Nunis also met with King Juan Carlos and Queen Dona Sofia at the Royal Palace to discuss the scope of the Epcot Center project and Spain's participation.

Herbie Ryman's concept art for World Showcase's Equatorial Africa
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Spain joins Venezuela, the State of Israel, and Equatorial Africa in the Phase II development of World Showcase.

"So why didn't these Venezuela or Spain pavilions ever get added to Epcot's World Showcase area?," you ask. Well, as Steve Baker (who - at that time - was director of participant affairs for the Walt Disney World Resort) told Vicki Vaughn of the Orlando Sentinel in an October 1984 interview:

Efforts to sign on Spain has been tougher. When Baker went to Spain for the first time in 1981, he succeeded in getting the government to pay for the design of that country's pavilion. (He declined to reveal the design costs of individual pavilions, but he said on average cost about $500,000.) But a new, young government took over in Spain. "When we came back to talk, we realized that we had no friends," Baker said. "So consequently, we had to start over."

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

This sort of thing happened over & over again when it came to luring new nations to come be part of Epcot's World Showcase area. Take - for example - the proposed Swiss pavilion (which was to have been the home of an East Coast version of Disneyland's very first thrill ride, the Matterhorn Bobsleds). Disney started negotiations with Swiss officials in 1986, only to then have these talks broken off in 1987. While these negotiations would eventually resume in 1989, Mouse House officials were never able to find a Swiss corporation that was then willing to underwrite the initial construction costs as well as supply the funds necessary to operate & maintain an attraction of this size.

"And why were these companies & countries so reluctant to commit to World Showcase?," you query. Well, sometimes it was the terms of the deal (Disney tended to try & get corporations to sign long-term sponsorship deals when it came to rides, shows and attractions for the Parks. Take - for example - the 13-year lease that the Mouse got United Technologies to sign, for the Living Seas pavilion). And sometimes it was the possible penalties that were involved should a country or company renege on its previous agreement to sponsor a World Showcase pavilion (EX:  The May 1989 lawsuit that the Walt Disney Company brought against Eskantorp. Which - in December of 1985 -- entered into a preliminary agreement with the Mouse to serve as the principal developer & sponsor of a South American pavilion. Only to then not be able to come up with the cash necessary to underwrite the design & construction of this proposed World Showcase addition).

Of course, sometimes it was just a case of initially promising negotiations just petering out. Take - for example - the Russia pavilion. Which was once considered to be a very strong candidate for World Showcase's Phase II. Dick Nunis (the then-Chairmain of Walt Disney Parks & Resorts) personally met with a Russian delegation in November of 1988 and - after this meeting - sounded very optimistic about this pavilion eventually being added to Epcot. That said, even though Nunis told the Orlando Sentinel that " ... the timing is very, very good to have negotiations with the Soviet Union," nothing came out of these talks.

Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

The same sort of thing happened in April 1979, when Walt Disney Productions officials received a Letter of Intent from Kenyan officials. Which said that Kenya - along with the nations of Senegal and the Ivory Coast - had agreed in principal to sponsor World Showcase's Africa pavilion. But then this trio of African countries began squabbling about which nation would receive top billing on the entrance to this sure-to-be Epcot showplace. And this sponsorship deal quickly fell apart.

Perhaps the saddest story associated with World Showcase's proposed Phase II is the one concerning the Israel pavilion. In November 1980, the State of Israel actually signed a deal to officially become part of Epcot. Joseph Wollf, special officer to the Minister of Finance and president of the Tourist Industry Development Corporation signed an agreement that called for this Middle Eastern country to underwrite the design & construction of a World Showcase pavilion that was estimated to cost $30 - $35 million. What's more, Jeshaja Weinberg (i.e. director of the Jewish Museum in Tel Aviv) agreed to provide Disney with a wide variety of archaeological artifacts. Which could then be put on display in a rotating gallery that was to have been part of Epcot's Israel pavilion.

"So if the money and the artifacts were already in place, why didn't this proposed World Showcase pavilion ever get built?," you ask. Well, that's where things get kind of vague. Though there were signs in place on Epcot's opening day trumpeting that the Israel pavilion was "Coming Soon," by October 1984, there was no sign of this previously-announced World Showcase addition.

Steve Baker (while speaking with Vicki Vaughn of the Orlando Sentinel) tried to put the best possible face on the situation. Insisting that The Walt Disney Company had ...

Herbie Ryman's concept art for the shopping district that was to have been built as part
of the World Showcase's Israel pavilion. Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc.
All rights reserved

... made much progress towards an Israel pavilion, getting the Israeli government to contribute design money and enlisting its help in putting together private sectors funds, Baker said. But "all this has taken five years and we expect lots of changes to occur" before the Israel pavilion takes shape.

To date, World Showcase's Israel pavilion has never made it off the drawing board. Reportedly because many senior Disney Company officials believe that including Israel as part of Epcot would then turn this theme park into a possible target for terrorism. Or - at the very least - a potential protest focal point. Which actually did prove to be the case when - in 1999 - the Arab League pushed for a boycott of the Millennium Village at Epcot due to the inclusion of an Israel Pavilion as part of this 15-month-long celebration.

Trust me, folks. This is just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to stories associated with the proposed Phase II of World Showcase area. Which - at one point - was to have included Epcot's first Eastern European country, Poland.

Better yet, remind me sometime to talk about the early, early days of Disney's World Showcase. We're talking 1975 - 1977 here. When the Mouse reached out to representatives of 31 separate countries to ask them to become part of Epcot ... Only to then have each of these countries then say "No."

An early concept painting of Epcot's World Showcase. Back when this part of that
futuristic theme park was supposed to be home to 17 international pavilions.
Copyright Disney Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved

Seriously. Even the United Kingdom (which was one of the United States' closest allies) refused to take part in the project. Reportedly because they just couldn't seen the benefit of being part of Disney's futuristic theme park. Which is why the Imagineers then quietly revised their plans for World Showcase. First scaling back the proposed line-up for this theme park from 31 international pavilions to 17. Then making further cuts, dropping from 17 to just 8 - 10 countries. And at one point, Disney officials were having so much trouble lining up World Showcase participants that they supposedly told Wall Street insiders that - on Epcot's opening day - this theme park might only have 5 international pavilions.

But that's a story for another time. Speaking of which ... If you'd like to see one of your Disney-related questions answered as part of a future Why For column, please send your queries along to [email protected].

That's it for now, folks. And if you live on the East Coast, here's hoping that Hurricane Irene doesn't give you too much trouble this weekend.

Talk to you later, okay?

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  • I could see an Israel pavilion even today being a target for terrorism, when the Palestinians try to get the UN to declare them a state, the US will probably be the sole major nation protesting this, and vetoing it.  I would enjoy any new pavilion, but would worry about the terrorism.  There is something else related to Israel that *might* have been removed, though I have visited Epcot perhaps only 40 times over the years, I clearly remember the clip in Sapceship Earth where somebody, (presumably an Israeli politician) says that "The State of Israel will Survive".  I'm not jewish, but I really liked this part, even though I am unsure what historical speech it is refers to.  Anyway, they redid Spaceship Earth and probably took this out.  I always wondered if some Palestinians or Arabs complained?

  • It's a shame.  

    A new pavilion within World Showcase is what I want more than anything for Walt Disney World.

    I think it would be a huge boon for both Epcot and the host country's tourism.

    Oh well...............waiting patiently.

  • I'd just like some updating of the current pavilions.  Are relations good enough with Miyazaki that they could put in a Studion Ghibli attraction in Japan?  At the very least my son would love the opportunity to hug a walkaround Totoro.

  • I was a cast member at WDW in the 90's and I recall one of the EPCOT "old-timers" saying that the Africa pavilion would have been in the place between Germany and China, and that the African/exotic themed "trading post" that's currently there was a remnant of those plans.

  • At this point, Disney needs to just pony up the money and invest it in a new pavilion.  Lower the stakes for potential new countries/sponsors.  

    At the end of the day, this is Disney's park so they should be proactive.  I keep hearing these same excuses, over and over again....how sponsorship money is not available or countries are not interested.  And, yet,  I never hear similar complaints about construction projects in any of the other theme parks.  Somehow, Mickey was able to scrounge up enough money to build Expedition Everest without a huge donation from the Tibetian government and a 15-year contract from an outside corporation.

    I wont pretend that I understand what kind of contracts are made with each of these countries.  I am sure they are complex and I am sure there are alot of considerations when partnering with a new nation.  Im just saying that Epcot is Disney Property.  Its their baby.  Stop with the excuses.  If management looks around this park and sees that its out-of-date, boring, and unsatisfying to guests....then do something about it.  And stop blaming politicians half-way across the world who are all busy trying to....well....you know....govern their nations.  Its Disney Mgmt's job to keep their park current and exciting.  If they can't figure out how to do it, then find somebody who can.

    Sidenote: I am a huge Epcot fan.  I worked there for a few years around the Millenium celebration.  But it just seems so stagnant and neglected now.  So much potential that I hate to see wasted.

  • I would love to see anything new in ANY Disney theme park, but the bottom line is Disney doesn't need to update or add a new pavillion in World Showcase to get people to go there.

    Epcot is the 5th most popular attraction in the WORLD (3rd in North America). Why would Disney spend money to update/upgrade Epcot while Disneyland Paris is 6th, Animal Kingdom is 7th ,Disney Hollywood Studios is 8th, California Adventure is 11th, Hong Kong is 15th, and Studios Paris is 19th in the world??? They need to concentrate on the lower performing parks and since Epcot is Disney's 5th most popular park worldwide (behind Magic Kingdom, Disneyland, Tokyo Disneyland and DisneySea) they don't need to invest big money in to it. IF Epcot were to slip from it's ranking, THEN Disney would probably be more interested in re-visting these additions, BUT until that happens, don't hold your breath.

  • Disney hasn't invested money in World Showcase, but they have invested 100s of millions in Future World and that has certainly driven attendance at EPCOT. Mission: Space, Soarin, Test Track, and Turtle Talk with Crush, not to mention the re-boot of Spaceship Earth and minor upgrades in the Canadian and Mexican pavilions with the new Circlevision film and the Three Caballeros have something to do with EPCOT being the 5th most visited theme park in the world.

    Disney has 2 parks at WDW--AK and Hollywood Studios--that were grossly underdeveloped when they were opened. They were charging full-day prices for parks that were half-day experiences and they were getting a lot of negative feedback, so for the last decade or more they've been putting a lot of their resources into upgrading those parks with ToT, Fantasmic, Rock n' Roller coaster, Motor Stunt Show, Toy Story Mania, Expedition Everest, etc, and even still those parks aren't close to the level of either MK or EPCOT. It's only natural to expect Disney to keep pouring resources into those parks. It's clear the only reason Fantasyland is being revamped is because they feel that Harry Potter could significantly erode MK's profitability if they don't do something. If EPCOT began to slide you'd see a renewed interest in adding new Showcases.

    Like all corporations, Disney wants to socialize as much of their costs as they can, while privatizing as much of their profits as they can. So when it comes to building World Showcases they'll use the excuse that they don't have sponsors, which is code for: we want someone else to pay for it. You think Disney wants to fork out 100 mil. for a pavilion if they think they can get the Brazilian or Russian governments, under the guise of promoting tourism to their countries, to do it? Times have changed and maybe governments and corporations have discovered that affixing their name to a ride at EPCOT or MK for a 9 figure sum isn't the best bang for their tourism bucks.

  • Why for - you never finish a story?  Always teasing with allegations that you have more facts/stories to tell?

  • It is a shame that more of these never made it past the planning stage. It's just my opinion, but I think part of the problem with selling EPCOT and perhaps even other sponsorships in the parks, is the lack of a charismatic leader with the passion and vision to get others to believe. There will never be another Walt, but, I would like to hope that someday there will be somebody at Disney with enough passion and vision who could break thru the barriers and reach those countries and companies and form a partnership to build something truly great. Until then, I fear the parks are stuck in the mediocrity we have now.

  • And, what happened with the Venezuela Pavilion?

  • I would like to see more Ws pavillon like Russia, Brazil, India, sweden and thailand

    Dont wanna see israel, it's too political

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