The crisis for us was two-fold. If United States Steel didn’t follow through on their obligations and meet the completion date, Disney would lose a substantial amount of tax savings at the end of its fiscal year and have the tighten spending the following year. But even more important was the fact that if United States Steel didn’t finish on time, there would be no accommodations for the guests, invited press, and dignitaries during the grand opening. That would have been tremendously embarrassing for the company and could have jeopardized the trust they’d built with business partners and the public. With discussions falling through, Disney in effect bought United States Steel out and asked them to vacate the project. At this point, Disney decided it would ultimately complete the construction itself and set up what I believe to have been the Buena Vista Construction Company to finish the project. I’m not aware of how much Disney had to pay to take possession of the properties back then, but it was substantial. But whatever they paid, I’m certain United States Steel lost much, much more; the terms of the original deal they signed was that they would own and operate the hotels with Disney just managing them. Rather than find a solution to the problem and make up for lost time, they opted instead to lose out on years of profits. Hard to believe, that’s what I think happened.
United States Steel and Disney had hired a man named John Currey to be the Vice President of the Resorts Division. He remained in that position during the opening and for a couple of years after that. John was a member of the Currey family, who owned and operated a number of lodges and properties in Yellowstone National Park, so there was no doubt on Disney’s part that he could handle hospitality operations and corporate themed events.
I believe that the reason United States Steel got the project in the first place was an innovative design they had called shot rooms. The concept was to build the main structure of the hotel and then pre-wire the electrics and plumbing and then pre-fab the rooms in a factory with all the electric and plumbing designed to easily be attached to the main grid on the main structure. Everything to my knowledge was going well, but problems arose shortly into construction. The rooms would be delivered on a daily basis for the cranes to move them into position for the final install. The problem was that in Florida it rains almost every single day in the summer, which would slow the install down until they could dry them out. No installation could be completed until this happened, and as a result, things were done in a rather piecemeal fashion. What I’m saying here is only an observation on my part as my department and I had nothing to do with the Resort Division. I mention this only because it created some initial stress from all of the departments, not just those working on getting the park completed and those who had to get the hotels opened.
These sort of issues aren’t uncommon when you’re collaborating on large-scale projects like we were. There was no way the grand opening could have happened without all of the different partners, divisions, and partnerships working together, but by the same token, it meant that one group failing to follow through, like United States Steel, resulted in drastic changes to keep on track. We were too far along with the planning of the grand opening celebration to simply postpone it, so the Disney organization had to buyout United States Steel and take over themselves. On all levels, even on the corporate level, we had to be flexible in all of our plans, not just event production.