Bob Foster Passes Away At 97

Bob Foster, who helped head the property search and land acquisition for Walt Disney World, has passed away. 

He began at Walt Disney Productions in 1956, working in real property law and as a legal counsel for Disneyland. He also managed the legislative package that established the Reedy Creek Improvement District. In 1970, he was named president of the Buena Vista Land Company, which developed the 4,000-acre community of Lake Buena Vista. 

“Well, that’s the place – Florida,” Walt Disney reportedly decided on a flight from New Orleans to Burbank, Calif. on November 22, 1963 – the same day President John F. Kennedy was assassinated in Dallas, Texas. Walt and a group of company executives had just toured east coast sites in an effort to find the best location for a “Disneyland East.” But those words confirmed Walt’s choice for his “whole new Disney World.”

Bob was a smalltown Midwestern boy, born on August 2, 1924 in Elk City, Kansas. He worked a paper route as a child, and graduated from high school at the age of 16. He then studied political science and education at the College of Emporia on the money he saved as a kid. His pursuit of higher education was interrupted by World War II, during which he joined the Marine Corps at the age of 19 and transferred to the Navy, earning the rank of Lieutenant.

Those words would also change the fate of Disney legal counsel Bob Foster, “Disney’s Official Clod Kicker” who was charged in April 1964 with scouting for land that would eventually become home to the Walt Disney World Resort. 

In a 2013 interview with the Disney Parks Blog, Bob remembered that he was “asked to go into the hinterlands and, in a quiet manner, surreptitiously buy a piece of real estate – somewhere between 5,000 and 10,000 acres.” He would spend more than 18 months spearheading the acquisition of what ultimately amounted to 27,443 acres of land – a property twice the size of the island of Manhattan!

He adopted the pseudonym “Bob Price” in order to take extra measures to prevent inquisitive residents from realizing that Disney was the “mystery industry” purchasing the large tracts of Central Florida land. “On my trips back to California, I would visit my mother in Kansas, which required a stop in St. Louis,” Bob said. “At least on a couple of occasions, I did not conceal that I was flying to that city. So it was not surprising when McDonnell Aircraft, headquartered in St. Louis, was soon identified, ‘on reliable authority,’ as being the mystery industry!”

At 8 a.m. on October 24, 1965, Bob and a colleague stepped into the lobby of an Orlando hotel to meet General Joe Potter. Joe turned to face the pair, holding before him that day’s issue of The Orlando Sentinel, which featured the banner headline, “We Say: ‘Mystery’ Industry is Disney.”

In the end, the property that would become Walt Disney World Resort was purchased at an average price of $180 dollars an acre – an incredible feat considering that shortly after the announcement was made, a nearby acre sold for more than $300,000! While much work was still ahead for Bob and his colleagues – namely, the mammoth effort to establish the Reedy Creek Improvement District – there was relief that the Disney property was secured. 

Bob Foster was honored with a window on Main Street, U.S.A. at Magic Kingdom Park. The window says “Pseudonym Real Estate Development Company with its phantom leaders, Roy Davis and Bob Price, and a “traveling representative” named Bob Foster.

Bob passed away on January 13, 2022. He is survived by four children and nine grandchildren.

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