EPCOT is an acronym of Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, a Utopian city of the future planned by Walt Disney, often interchanging “city” and “community.” In Walt Disney’s words: “EPCOT will take its cue from the new ideas and new technologies that are now emerging from the creative centers of American industry. It will be a community of tomorrow that will never be completed, but will always be introducing, and testing, and demonstrating new materials and new systems. And EPCOT will always be a showcase to the world of the ingenuity and imagination of American free enterprise.” His original vision was for a model community, home to twenty thousand residents, which would be a test bed for city planning and organization. It was to have been built in the shape of a circle, with businesses and commercial areas at its center, community buildings, schools, and recreational complexes around it, and residential neighborhoods along the perimeter. Transportation would have been provided by monorails and PeopleMovers (like that in Magic Kingdom’s Tomorrowland.) Automobile traffic would be kept underground, leaving pedestrians safe above ground. The original model of EPCOT can still be seen by passengers riding the Tomorrowland Transit Authority attraction in the Magic Kingdom park; when the PeopleMover enters the showhouse for Stitch’s Great Escape!, the remaining portion of the model is visible on the left (when facing forward) behind glass. Walt Disney was not able to obtain funding and permission to start work on his Florida property until he agreed to first build Magic Kingdom. He died nearly five years before Magic Kingdom opened.
After Disney’s death, The Walt Disney Company decided that it did not want to be in the business of running a city without Walt’s guidance. The model community of Celebration, Florida has been mentioned as a realization of Disney’s original vision, but Celebration is based on concepts of new urbanism which is radically different from Disney’s modernist and futurist visions. However, the idea of EPCOT was instrumental in prompting the state of Florida to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) and the Cities of Bay Lake and Reedy Creek (now Lake Buena Vista), a legislative mechanism allowing the Walt Disney Company to exercise governmental powers over Walt Disney World. Control over the RCID is vested in the landowners of the district, and the promise of an actual city in the district would have meant that the powers of the RCID would have been distributed among the landowners in EPCOT. Because the idea of EPCOT was never implemented, the Disney Corporation remained almost the sole landowner in the district allowing it to maintain control of the RCID and the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista; Disney further cemented this control by deannexing Celebration from the RCID.
The original plans for the park showed indecision over the park’s purpose. Some Imagineers wanted it to represent the cutting edge of technology, while others wanted it to showcase international cultures and customs. At one point, a model of the futuristic park was pushed together against a model of a World’s Fair international theme, and the two were combined. The park was originally named EPCOT Center to reflect the ideals and values of the city. It was constructed for an estimated $800 million to $1.4 billion and took three years to build, at the time the largest construction project on Earth. The parking lot serving the park is 141 acres (57.1 ha) (including bus area) and can accommodate 11,211 vehicles (grass areas hold additional 500+ vehicles). Before it opened on October 1, 1982, Walt Disney World Ambassador Genie Field introduced E. Cardon Walker, Disney’s chairman and CEO, who dedicated EPCOT Center. Walker also presented a family with lifetime passes for the two Walt Disney World theme parks. His remarks were followed by Florida Governor Bob Graham and William Ellinghouse, president of AT&T.
As part of the opening-day ceremony, dancers and band members performed We’ve Just Begun to Dream. The Sherman Brothers wrote a song especially for the occasion entitled, “The World Showcase March”. During the finale, doves and many sets of balloons were released. Performing groups representing countries from all over the world performed in World Showcase. Water gathered from major rivers across the globe was emptied into the park’s fountain of nations ceremonial containers to mark the opening. Located at the front of the park is a plaque bearing Walker’s opening-day dedication, as seen above.