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Walt Disney Co. to sell time shares in 15-story tower next to Contemporary Resort

Orlando Sentinel

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February 26, 2008

The Walt Disney Co. has won approval to begin selling time shares in a 15-story tower the company is erecting next to its famed Contemporary Resort, a $110 million addition that Disney has named "The Kingdom Tower."

Disney has for months refused to divulge its plans for the hard-to-miss, half-built tower that is rising just outside the gates of the Magic Kingdom -- despite rampant speculation among Disney fans that it is destined for time shares.

A spokeswoman for the company's time-share division, Disney Vacation Club, would not discuss the project in detail again Monday.

But in new filings with the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation, Disney formally states that the Disney Vacation Club will "add a ninth component site to be known as Kingdom Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort."

Disney says in the documents that it will sell the time shares in phases, beginning with an initial 75 units. The Kingdom Tower, which will connect to the existing Contemporary via a fifth-floor pedestrian bridge, will ultimately contain 281 units, according to the filings.

A spokesman for the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which awarded a time-share license to the Kingdom Tower project earlier this month, said Disney has now been cleared to start selling units at any time.

"They can begin," department spokesman Sam Farkas said.

Disney appears in no rush. The company says in the documents it doesn't expect to finish the Kingdom Tower until the fall of 2009.

Analysts say the company can afford to be patient. The Kingdom Tower, they say, is likely to prove a huge seller, given that it will be the closest time shares Disney has built to the Magic Kingdom -- the busiest theme park in the world -- and the first built directly alongside Disney's monorail.

"I'd have to imagine that's going to be an extremely popular product," said Jeremy Glaser, a lodging-industry analyst with Morningstar.

Some analysts think Disney is withholding a formal Contemporary announcement because it does not want to undermine time-share sales at Disney's Animal Kingdom Villas or Disney's Saratoga Springs Resort & Spa, both of which are still selling units. The company's four other time-share resorts at Walt Disney World -- as well as one each in Vero Beach and Hilton Head, S.C. -- are sold out.

Glaser, however, said Disney's silence "could just be some trademark Disney secrecy."

Disney's filings with the state also offer more detail about the Kingdom Tower's amenities.

A new swimming pool, for instance, will be large enough for 180 people; go as deep as 4 feet, 11 inches; and feature two hot tubs and a 104-foot-long water slide. There will be two tennis courts, two shuffleboard courts and two boccie ball courts. A barbecue pavilion will have about 490 square feet of covered area and a pair of picnic tables.

Glaser predicted that Disney will choose to market the Contemporary time shares "as more of an upscale product." An early point-chart submitted by Disney to the state -- Disney Vacation Club owners buy points from the company, which they then redeem for rooms, though they must buy through a "home resort" -- shows guests will have to spend more points to rent one- and two-bedroom units at the Kingdom Tower than any of Disney's other existing time shares.

In a further step toward cementing the new tower's status as a time-share resort, Disney has created a new condominium association that would manage the resort once units are sold off to individual owners. State records show that the "Kingdom Tower at Disney's Contemporary Resort Condominium Association" was formally incorporated Jan. 9.

The Kingdom Tower continues a wave of construction for Disney's fast-growing Vacation Club. The company is in the midst of building its first time shares at Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., and has announced plans to build an 800-room resort in Hawaii in which at least half of the units will be time shares.

Disney also recently obtained approval to rebuild its little-known Treehouse Villas, a 60-unit community in a heavily forested area of Disney World.

The move has prompted speculation that those units, too, could be converted to time shares.

The widespread building boom comes even as the U.S. economy teeters on the brink of a possible recession.

But Tammie Kaufman, a professor at the University of Central Florida who teaches courses on time shares, said time shares could remain popular even during an economic slump because consumers will want to stretch their vacation money further.

"People are looking for a bargain," Kaufman said.


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