Mickey Mouse waves goodbye to fairy-tale town as Disney sells Celebration

The Walt Disney Company is pulling out of Celebration, the squeaky-clean town of manicured front lawns, brick-laid pedestrian streets and fake snow at Christmas that it created from scratch in central Florida as a bold experiment in town planning known as "new urbanism".

Confirming what many residents and business owners had feared for months, Disney announced that it has sold the core of the town to a New York-based property firm, Lexin Capital, for an undisclosed sum. With his three-fingered paw stuck in the air, Mickey Mouse is waving goodbye.

Feelings in the town are mixed. But to anyone drawn there by the promise of a life made safe and perfect by the pixie-dust of Disney, the news is unsettling. What will happen to the town now?

Lexin Capital is already moving to provide reassurances. It will still put the machines on the streetlights in December that spray the fake snow on the streets, just as it will continue to ship in perfectly hued leaves in the autumn to decorate the pavements.

And if they take steps to lessen the magic, they may also make Celebration a bit more real. They are promising to open new shops downtown, including some that will be useful for residents rather than purely attractive for tourists. There are currently no video or hardware shops. But there is a place where shoppers can buy fancy dolls and, of course, a shop crammed with Disney memorabilia.

The "new urban" premise of the town, where residential and commercial spaces are blended together, will remain. And there will not be any relaxation in the draconian rules governing what residents can do, at least in the short term. These concern such matters as which shrubs can be planted in front gardens.

In September last year, Disney sold the local golf course and permitted control of the town's board to pass to residents. This week's sale encompasses an area of 18 acres, which contains 16 shops, six restaurants, a large chunk of office space and 105 private apartments.

Disneyopened Celebration in 1996. It has sold about $600m (£326m) of homes in the town, which now has a population of 8,000. Disney envisages that it will grow to 12,000 one day. Homes in the town fetch the best prices in Orlando.

Among those uncertain about the future is Pam Shore, who bought a home in Celebration five years ago. She said: "I moved here because I loved Disney, but this was just a business venture for them."

But Heather Clayton, who lives in town and owns a children's clothes shop there called Lollipop Carriage, seemed less concerned. "Everybody thinks this is going to be a big deal, but it's not. It's just a different name on the rent check," she said.

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