The mayor who cried Disney

December 5, 2013

Disney fans in Costa Rica were taken on an emotional roller coaster ride Wednesday when rumors circulated about a Disney theme park in the northwestern province of Guanacaste, but the news turned out to be pure fairy tale.

It all started when Luis Gerardo Castañeda, the mayor of the provincial capital of Liberia, announced on morning talk show “Buen Día” that the Disney Corporation had purchased land within the municipality with the intention of building a park.

Castañeda also confirmed the company’s plans in a phone interview with The Tico Times later that morning.

By Wednesday afternoon, The Walt Disney Parks and Resorts press office had denied the claims. Sarah Domenech, public relations manager for Disney Destinations, told The Tico Times “the news is completely false.”

In a second phone interview with The Tico Times, Castañeda backtracked, saying that the municipality could not confirm the Disney resort.

“Officially, neither the municipal council nor the mayor’s office have documents or permits for this project,” he said. “We have no confirmation about this project.”

When asked why he originally announced the news, Castañeda blamed Teletica’s Edgar Silva for alerting him about the project. Silva said he originally saw the story Wednesday morning in the Liberia newspaper La Provincia, and called the mayor to ask if he would confirm the project on the air.

“About three months ago, I heard that there were investors interested in doing a park near the airport,” Silva told The Tico Times. “I called the mayor then and he denied that it was Disney. … I called the mayor again this morning and asked if it was Disney, he said yes and he accepted to go public with me.”

Though Disney has denied plans for a park this time, there is a reason for the rumors.

“For some years now we have known that Disney has been scouting Costa Rica for some kind of project,” Hermes Navarro, the head of the Costa Rican Tourism Board’s tourism management department. “They have been using a middle man to build some kind of ecological theme park. This time it isn’t true, but that is not to say Disney does not have an interest in Costa Rica.”

The company has at least taken steps towards the possibility of a theme park. In 2012, a lawyer solicited the inscription of nine brands on behalf of Disney Enterprises Inc. in the government’s official newspaper La Gaceta. Amusement and theme parks were listed among the hundreds of possible brand uses. 

If Disney did have interest in Costa Rica before, the mayor’s premature announcement could have a negative influence on any future deal.

“Even if this was true he jumped the gun,” Navarro said. “Something like this can take down a whole project because now people might be doubling or tripling the cost of their land. One of Disney’s requirements was always to keep this very quiet.”

Whether it’s Disney or not, a Liberia theme park still could be in the works. 

A records search showed that a company registered as Sun Ranch Limitada owns two large plots of land near the Daniel Oduber International Airport in Liberia. The company announced intentions to build a theme park in the area in 2012, but neither the Liberia Municipality nor the ICT have permits on file for the development of the project. Disney has not responded to solicitations from The Tico Times about whether Sun Ranch Limitada is linked with their company.

Though the rumor was false, Ticos spent the hours before the debunking creating the following memes:

ArayaMickey

Former San José mayor, presidential candidate and Costa Rica’s favorite cartoon mouse Johnny Araya-Mickey says “Hire Me.” 

DisneyMayor

Costa Rican comedian Carlos Ramos or “El Porcionzón” is painted up to look like Minnie Mouse.

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