Disney Seeks New Site for History Park

JUST days after the Walt Disney Company abruptly cancelled its plan to build a history theme park near Manassas battlefield in Virginia, the question is why the company allowed itself to go through months of embarrassing negative publicity before reversing itself.

Pete Rummell, president of Disney Design and Development Company, said late Wednesday night the company still planned to build the park somewhere else in Virginia, but had not chosen a site. He acknowledged that the park's opponents had gotten their message across.

``We recognize that there are those who have been concerned about the possible impact of our park on historic sites in this unique area, and we have always tried to be sensitive to the issue,'' Mr. Rummell said in a statement.

Opponents of the park, who also feared it would harm the environment, were ready to begin their own celebration when they heard the news.

``[Disney chairman Michael] Eisner said in the beginning he wouldn't come if he wasn't wanted. It just took him a long time to pack his bags,'' said Pat Blackwell, a member of the board of Protect, a largely local citizens' group that opposed the site Disney selected.

Disney had options to purchase 3,000 acres of land in Haymarket, Va., about five miles away from Manassas battlefield park, of Civil War fame, and 35 miles from Washington, D.C. The company planned a 100-acre theme park surrounded by residential, commercial, and recreational development, in addition to some green space.

Many opponents did not question Disney's stated commitment to quality development, but rather were concerned about the ``sprawl'' that would likely spring up for miles around Disney, choking historic sites like Manassas. They were also concerned that Disney's stylized version of history would lure tourists away from the actual history in the area, including homesteads of several early US presidents.

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