Could we ever see a 5th Disney theme park in Florida?

ORLANDO, Fla. — Walt Disney Disney opened its fourth theme park, Disney’s Animal Kingdom, in 1998.

The opening capped off a 16-year expansion at the resort, which began in 1982 with the opening of Epcot, followed by Disney-MGM Studios (now Disney’s Hollywood Studios) in 1989 and the construction of hotels and water parks.

Since the opening of Animal Kingdom, one question has continued to bubble up -- “Will Disney eventually build a fifth theme park?”

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“Oh, absolutely. I think we will see a fifth theme park,” author Rick Foglesong said. “It’s important to remember when you look at this tourism market that some 80% of the people who come here have come here before. Therefore, it is important for Disney to innovate.”

Foglesong, whose book “Married to the Mouse” details Disney’s history in Central Florida, notes that decisions made by two key figures paved the way for a fifth park should Disney choose to build.

The first is Walt Disney, who sought to buy up as much land as possible to facilitate future expansion.

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“Because the Disney company was able to get the land cheap, they bought a lot more land than they needed,” Foglesong said. “The story is that Roy, the brother, challenged Walt as to whether or not they needed this much land and Walt said, ‘Look what happened out in Anaheim, where we became landlocked.’ So they ended up with all this land.”

The next pivotal moment came in the mid-80s when the Disney board charged its new CEO Michael Eisner with expansion.

“They say, ‘We want you to build more hotels. We have got a lot of property.’ Michael Eisner did a study to identify property that would never be used for a theme park,” Foglesong said.

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By plotting out land for hotels and leaving land for theme parks, the company set itself up for the expansion that carried it through the end of the 20th century.

But since then, talk of a fifth park has been just that, talk.

While Disney continues to set attendance records, Foglesong said that no decision about expansion will be made lightly, and the company may choose to continue to expand and renovate its existing parks rather than build a new one.

But he said as the tourism market continues to grow, he expects a fifth theme park will eventually become a reality.