Despite what your hairdresser, grocery store checker or barista at your favorite coffee bar tells you, the Walt Disney Co. is not building a theme park here.
We know you heard it from a good source.
It was someone who was cutting the hair of this guy whose wife sells real estate out on the West Side. Or somebody who ordered a bunch of cappuccinos because they were touring vacant land sites. Or somebody who picked up a lot of croissants for a morning meeting with a big developer.
But contrary to popular belief, Walt Disney's plans for a theme park in South Texas are nothing more than an urban legend. It is a myth that has grown with an amazing virulence.
"Disney will build a theme park on the moon before they build one in San Antonio," said Dennis Speigel, president of Cincinnati-based International Theme Park Services Inc.
Disney officials won't comment on the record about whether they are planning any parks anywhere. They did say they get calls every week from reporters across the country looking into the latest Disney rumors.
"If somebody comes to town wearing a Disney T-shirt, that's enough to start a rumor," said Paul Serff, president of the Texas Travel Industry Association and former general manager of Fiesta Texas (pre-Six Flags).
That's not to say Disney never thought about putting a park here. Developer Marty Wender reportedly took Disney officials on a tour of his Westover Hills development nearly two decades ago. Wender did not return several calls seeking comment.
Disney rumors surfaced again in the early 1990s with talk of a Disney vacation club. The rumors popped up again in the mid-1990s, then the late 1990s, and again in 2001, 2002, 2003 ... You get the idea.
Some of the rumors are Disney's fault, Serff said. Walt Disney took a risk building his park in the orange groves of California, far outside (at the time) Los Angeles city limits. But it became a hit.
So he did it again, this time in the orange groves of Florida. The purchases he made out there were all under aliases and shadow companies.
"The rumor was that a lot of the land was bought up there and nobody knew who was buying it," Serff said. "If someone is buying land and they can't tell you who it is and it's for an entertainment thing ... ah, it must be Disney."
Veterans of San Antonio's real estate market continue to hear the rumors and still encounter people who think the Mouse is coming to South Texas. The Disney rumor has kept broker Landon Kane of First American Commercial Property Group from making some deals.
"We deal in land exclusively," Kane said. "But we talk to people who hear Disney is going to come to their area and they're going to hold on to their land a little longer to see if the value goes up. And they hold on to it for years."
Putting a Disney-themed attraction in San Antonio might have made sense once upon a time. The area had plenty of land, a lot of tourists and decent weather much of the year. But along came Fiesta Texas (which was preceded by Disney rumors) followed by Sea World San Antonio (which was preceded by more Disney rumors), and the market had as many theme parks as it could take.
"You already have two parks in San Antonio that have cut the baby in half," said Speigel, who might have been an architect of some of those Disney rumors in the 1990s.
His group worked with Gaylord Entertainment on the sale of Fiesta Texas. In the report submitted to Gaylord and partner USAA, Speigel said they suggested selling the park to Disney. It would have given the "House of Mouse" a regional park for $100 million, about the cost of one new Disney attraction.
"We made that recommendation and nothing ever happened," Speigel said. Except for the spread of rumors.
It would be really hard to find enough land for Disney to build a park here, said Kit Corbin, executive vice president with Grubb & Ellis.
"Disney knows the real money comes from controlling everything around it," Corbin said. "They need an enormous tract of land so they can control the hotel sites, the motel sites and the retail. I think Disney, more than anybody, recognizes they're not going to plop their park down on a piece of dirt and let others capitalize on the development."
Yet the rumors persist. They even make some sense to Ramiro Cavazos, director of research and economic development for the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio and former head of the city's economic development office.
"We at the city had heard off and on that they were scouting sites in San Antonio," he said. "I would imagine that they would look at the strength in the hospitality industry and the advantages that are already built in with the strength of the hotels. The advantages of having Sea World and Fiesta Texas and the Missions and Spurs and the Alamo and the River Walk. But we had never really concluded that they were talking to anybody at the city."
Because they weren't. All the advantages Cavazos named only dilute the tourist dollar, which Disney likes to dominate in its coastal U.S. markets.
Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., was the only attraction of its kind when it opened far outside the hustle and bustle of Los Angeles. But it was still close enough to draw people who wanted a break from the city.
Walt Disney World helped make Florida a gateway to European visitors. Millions enter Florida via Orlando and continue their tour of the state.
San Antonio already has enough going for it that it doesn't need Disney, said the Texas Travel Industry's Serff.
"You have two of the best theme parks I have ever seen," he said. "You have a world-class River Walk, water parks, Natural Bridge Caverns, history, a great zoo and the best and classiest team in the NBA. So why overlook the pearls that currently make up San Antonio?"