Sunday, June 05, 2005

Too Much of a Good Thing?

Can there ever be too much of a good thing? Lately I've been wondering that as our town gears up for the premiere of a new movie, "Tugger, the Jeep 4 x 4 That Wanted to Fly." "Tugger" was created by Genesis Orlando, a Celebration-based company started by former Disney animators.

For a long time now, there have been sneak previews of "Tugger's" progress. My husband and I were anxious to see them, but they always seemed to coincide with a time when we were in Chicago (that was back in our "commuter days"). Now, the movie is complete, and since its roots are here, the big premiere is being held on the company's home turf.

I've known for a while that "Tugger" was going to premiere over the Fourth of July weekend. It seemed appropriate, since that is a major event for Celebration anyway. What I didn't realize was that this was not going to be low-key. It will be a full-out extravaganza, complete with an appearance by James Belushi's band and a fireworks display capper. Rumors are pegging the number of expected attendees at 60,000 (think Magic Kingdom-sized crowd), although I'm hoping that a more reasonable estimate might be 40,000 to 45,000.

There is another aspect that is causing a great deal of controversy: on July 2, the date of the premiere, Celebration will be closed off to everyone but residents. Passes will be issued to those of us fortunate enough to live here, and we'll have to show them at the entrance to town in order to re-enter our "bubble." Of course, that's only for those foolish enough to attempt to leave in the first place. I'm already picturing the back-ups and the carloads of crazed, argumentative tourists, so I plan to bunker down in East Village for the entire Fourth of July weekend. It will be good practice for hurricane season anyway.

There are also fears that our little burb might not be able to handle such a huge onslaught of visitors. Personally, I have never experienced anything of this magnitude. Up until now, Fourth of July has been the largest event that I've seen in town. All I can remember from last year is cars parked on any available inch of surface space and people squabbling madly over "their" spots to watch the fireworks. My husband and I didn't have to be a part of that; we lucked into a perfect viewing spot that was virtually deserted, but I'll never disclose it short of torture.

We had walked downtown on the Fourth with our neighbor, who was meeting a friend from Kissimmee. This very brave friend drove and parked downtown amidst the insanity. After the fireworks, we literally got home to East Village on foot before she even managed to drive out of town.

My imagination is multiplying July Fourth by a factor of 10 to try to get some perspective on "Tugger's" potential magnitude. Of course, it could all be a wild exaggeration; then again, that dire prediction of 60,000 could come true. I'm steeling myself for the worst but hoping for the best: another fun gala Celebration event.

This is where I wonder: Is there ever too much of a good thing? I've been very vocal about our parking issue lately because I believe that if it gets too bad, it has the potential to kill downtown Celebration as it currently exists. No tourists and residents equals no stores. No stores equals empty buildings with soaped-over windows. In the hot residential real estate market, I supposed they could be converted into condos. But part of the reason I moved here was because of the vibrant commercial downtown. With the stores gone, we'd be just like any other cookie cutter Florida resort development, only a lot more pricey.

Big events draw visitors, which in turn draws money, so I'm happy to see an event like "Tugger" that will help to support our downtown. I also think it will be interesting to see how well the off-site parking works. While residents will be able to get into town with their passes, others will be routed to parking lots and shuttled in. If that goes well, it could be a model for the future. If it fails, then we know we need to find another solution. Although it will be inconvenient to wait in line to drive home and then pony up a pass, I would be willing to do that a few times a year as a trade-off to keep our downtown lively and to host special events.

When I moved to Celebration, I knew that I would be trading some privacy and convenience for the opportunity to live in the infamous "Disney Town." For me, the trade-off was worth it; we've only been here full-time since January, but I can't imagine living anywhere else.

But I can understand the worries of many of my fellow residents, too. You can read them at, but you will need to register for the message board. Basically, since we've never dealt with something of this magnitude, people are worried about what will happen if the crowd gets out of control. And what about the mess that tens of thousands of people are sure to leave? Will they be roaming the streets and trampling people's yards? Hopefully these things won't happen, but realistically there is always a chance.

"Tugger" is being held on July 2, and our usual holiday extravaganza is taking place on the 4th. Will we be able to hit the "reset" button that quickly, recovering from the big premiere and getting ready for Round 2? We'll see.

Another sore point with many residents (myself included) is that there was virtually no communication within the town. I am getting used to the fact that our official newspaper, Celebration News, is a sanitized Pollyana version of what's going on. If you want the real scoop, go to the unofficial sources. First and foremost, there's the Celebration Independent, the "rebel" newspaper. Some people deride it as the Co-Dependent, but I think it serves a very useful function. It offers a different, and often more realistic, view of what's gong on in the steamy underbelly of Paradise.

Second is the discussion forum. Granted, we have a lively intranet, but that is for residents only, and it requires posters to use their real names. On 34747forum, you can take on a secret identity to say crazy things and bash your fellow posters at will. Of course, I'm saying that with tongue in cheek...even though things can get nasty over there, if you read between the lines, you will learn a lot. It was on that site that myself, and quite a few other residents, learned just how large this event might be and that we would need passes to get into town on the 2nd. The current issue of Celebration News, which came out after the poo-poo hit the fan, mentions the event in rosy tones that make no mention of the logistics.

Personally, I think (hope) that "Tugger" will be a good thing for our town. I was very disappointed when Disney-MGM shut down their animation studio and morphed from a real working animation facility to a clone of the lame California animation tour. I'm proud that Celebration is home to Genesis Orlando, and I'm hoping that this first movie will launch them on to continued success. My only fear is that it might be too much of a good thing, but I won't know for sure until after the last celebrity has headed back to Hollywood and the straggling tourists have been shooed onto the shuttle.

Will Celebration survive? And perhaps more important, will Tugger get his wings? Tune in shortly after July 2nd for the verdict.

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