Mickey moves in on the pimps

IF THERE was a law to prevent companies from taking over entire cities, rather than just other corporations, it would surely have been triggered by now in the case of Disney and New York, writes David Usborne.

Barely a pimple on the Big Apple landscape until recently, the house of Mickey Mouse is suddenly casting a shadow over it longer than that of the Empire State Building.

The acquisition of Capital Cities-ABC, and with it large tracts of office space, is only one more advance in the Disney invasion. In a matter of weeks, the company that we commonly associate with Los Angeles and Orlando has taken a remarkable hold over New York and in particular over its traditionally seediest part - the Times Square neighbourhood.

It started in June when Disney paid $1m (pounds 625,000) to take over the Great Lawn in Central Park for a single day for a whizz-bang outdoor premiere of its latest animated block-buster, Pocahontas. Shortly afterwards, it announced grand- iose plans for huge hotel and retail complex on the other side of the street on the corner of Eighth Avenue. Then two weeks ago, Disney's chairman, Michael Eisner, struck a much-vaunted deal with City Hall to install itself in the historic but long-abandoned Amsterdam Theatre on 42nd Street, just off the Square.

The arrival of Disney has unlocked more or less overnight the decade- long paralysis that had afflicted efforts to rescue Times Square and its environs from the brigades of pimps, pushers and tricksters. The Amsterdam deal is sweetened by a generous $34m subsidy for its refurbishment from the city. Once completed, it will stage Broadway productions of Disney creations. Pocahontas the Musical might just be the first offering. Meanwhile several other partners are joining a wider effort to revive 42nd Street.

The Eighth Avenue development will include massive retail space for Disney to market its various theme toys and products - in addition to another Disney store projected to open on Fifth Avenue next year - as well as a soaring hotel and condominium tower, the design of which is meant to depict a meteor crashing to earth. Every hour, clouds of Pixie dust will be released from its base to fall on passers-by below.

To city planners, Disney is like a gift from heaven. No better antidote to the squalid decrepitude of Times Square could be found on Earth than the company that is the very symbol of Snow White innocence and family fun. For those who dare venture that the rotten core was actually integral to New York's wider appeal, all hope is surely lost. Mickey may not yet have swallowed the Apple whole, but has certainly taken a good bite: Mr Eisner must just be hoping it is not poisoned.

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