Without the man who proudly referred to himself as “Disney’s official clod kicker,” the Walt Disney World Resort we know wouldnot have been possible. Robert Price “Bob” Foster orchestrated the purchase of thousands of acres that the resort covers todayin total secrecy in the early 1960s, involving hundreds of transactions. He joined The Walt Disney Company soon after theopening of Disneyland and remained with the Company for nearly 20 years.
A Midwesterner like his eventual boss, Walt Disney, Bob was born in Elk City, Kansas, in 1924. He served as a U.S. Navy officer in the Pacifictheater, then returned home to finish his interrupted undergraduate studies. He earned degrees in political science and business administrationfrom the College of Emporia, Kansas, and in education from the University of Southern California. He served briefly as a teacher in Los Angelesbefore returning to USC to secure a law degree in 1954. Two years later, he joined the legal department for Walt Disney Productions, as theCompany was then known.
“I became directly involved as counsel for Disneyland, Inc.,” Bob recounted, working “with ‘outside’ stockholders that included [ABC] … WEDEnterprises [now known as Walt Disney Imagineering], and Walt Disney, personally.” Bob also served on Disneyland’s Park OperationsCommittee and in 1960 was named Assistant Secretary, Walt Disney Productions, and Resident Counsel for Disneyland. He recalled, “It wasas counsel for the park, negotiating for expansion property and dealing with hold-out landowners … that I became the company’s land negotiator.”
In late 1963, Walt and Roy O. Disney personally selected Bob to head the land search and acquisitions for the top-secret “Project X.”Operating under the pseudonym “Bob Price” over the course of 18 months, Bob surreptitiously scouted and acquired thousands of acres ofland across the state of Florida—from an initial target of 5,000 to an eventual spread of more than 27,000 acres. It was one of the largest parcelsever acquired by a single corporation, and Bob singlehandedly negotiated with more than 100 landowners across the United States to make ithappen. In total, Bob secured 43 square miles of majestic, largely untouched wilderness, including Bay Lake and Riles Island (which becameDiscovery Island)—for $5 million, or $182 per acre. It was, Walt said, “enough land to hold all the ideas and dreams [the Company] could possibly imagine.”
But as Bob put it, “it was after the purchase of the land that the ‘real’ work began.” Contemplating the massive development that would span twoFlorida counties, “it occurred to me that just as Walt was regarding the 43 square miles of undeveloped land as a clean sheet of paper, we shoulddo the same—create an entirely new local governmental structure for the project.” As the Vice President of Legal, Florida Project, Bob oversawthe creation of a massive, 481-page legislative package that established the governing authority for developing and managing a wide range ofpublic services across the Walt Disney World property. The package passed in May 1967, just months after Walt’s death, establishing the cities ofBay Lake and Lake Buena Vista.
In 1967, Bob joined the Board of Supervisors for the improvement district, later serving as its President. The district’s groundbreaking buildingcode allowed innovations such as the practical application of experimental building materials; innovative and environmentally friendly land use;a high-speed, all-electric Monorail system; and sophisticated prototype systems for power generation, trash collection, and wastewater treatment—winning the Urban Land Institute’s prestigious Award of Excellence in 1981.
In the years approaching the grand opening of Walt Disney World Resort, Bob was named Vice President (Legal), Secretary, and General Counselfor the Walt Disney World Co., and in 1970 was promoted to President of the Buena Vista Land Company, a subsidiary of Walt Disney Productions.In this role, Bob was responsible for developing Lake Buena Vista—a recreation and resort community on the eastern side of the Disney propertynow known for its world-class vacation homes, hotels, offices, golf course, and the popular shopping and entertainment district, Disney Springs.
In 1974, Bob retired from Walt Disney Productions as Vice President, Real Estate. He is honored with a window on Main Street, U.S.A., in MagicKingdom Park—one of the highest accolades bestowed by The Walt Disney Company. He was named a Disney Legend in 2021 and passed away in January 2022.