Kansas City is getting its first glimpse inside the reimagined space where Walt Disney first encountered the inspiration for Mickey Mouse.
Thank You Walt Disney, Inc. — in partnership with DigiSTORY KC and Plexpod — unveiled GouldEvans-designed renderings of its 10,000-square-foot Laugh-O-gram Studios rehab project Thursday night.
“We will begin working on some facade improvements hopefully here in the next month,” said Gary Sage, building development committee board member and consultant with the Economic Development Corporation of Kansas City.
“[The space will offer] visual media training, coworking space, a small museum and conference area [celebrating] Walt Disney and the other animators, and a 50-seat theater and lecture hall.”
Click here to read about the first private info session held by Thank You, Walt Disney Inc., designed to give supporters a look at Disney’s impact on animation and ways he was inspired by 1920s Kansas City.
The project could be completed as early as mid-2023 — 100 years after Disney left Kansas City, added Butch Rigby, a leading developer and proponent of the massive restoration project which is expected to reboot Disney’s creative energy within the famed space along Troost Avenue.
The effort centers around an aging structure with a story as timeless as one of Disney’s own creations: inside, the legendary animator shared an office with and befriended a real-life rodent that later would come to life on screen as one of the most iconic characters in pop culture — Mickey Mouse.
Fast forward a century and perhaps the most-talked-about, modern-day component of the project is its reliance on Plexpod to manage a coworking space within the building, organizers noted.
“Obviously we have a big heart for Kansas City and entrepreneurship — and I can’t think of a greater entrepreneur than Walt Disney,” said Gerald Smith, co-founder of Plexpod.
“It didn’t take too long for us to recognize that this building on 31st and Troost has a huge opportunity to be an icon for Kansas City — not only representing the history — but also representing our commitment to entrepreneurs going forward,” he said.
The sixth publicly announced location for Plexpod, its Laugh-O-gram Studios presence is expected to house all the things Kansas City’s coworking community has come to love, Smith said, detailing plans for private offices, but also event, meeting, and open desk space — all of which will be made accessible to anyone in the community, not just Plexpod members.
“At Plexpod, we invite the community in. On any given day, you’ll see homeowners associations, and industry associations, freelancer associations all gathering and having meetings and I think that’s one of the most special things about [Plexpod.] I think that’s what this project is. … We’re just going to bring some infrastructure and some management to that.”
A crown jewel of the project will be the preservation of Disney’s office — laid out in its original location within the building and expected to take on new life as a thematic meeting room within Plexpod’s footprint.
“If you’ve been to any Plexpod location, one thing you’ll discover is that the idea of a meeting room is not just a table with a bunch of chairs around it. … The idea is to take his office from the images that we have from the archives and recreate it — as close as possible — with period furniture and things like that,” Smith explained, sharing examples of themed meeting spaces across the Plexpod community.
While it’s a small part of the building’s overall design, gaining access to the meeting space could hold more significance than any other piece of the project, Rigby noted.
“Young entrepreneurs and students will actually sit in Walt’s office and have meetings,” he said of what’s to come for the space and ways the team at Thank You, Walt Disney hopes to capture the icon’s signature imagination, harnessing it as a source of inspiration for a new generation of creators.
“I can’t say enough about GouldEvans and their team and what they’re doing. Walt used Americana [as his vision] for Disneyland — but he created something that no one had ever seen,” Rigby continued. “From the outside, you’re going to have a pretty accurate look at what the building looked like 100 years ago. On the inside, I think you’re going to see some incredible [modern] design elements.”
The building will also house a state-of-the-art digital media lab-style classroom, overflowing with the latest gadgets and equipment that includes recording booths, a hollywood-quality editing bay, and a small soundstage with greenscreens.
While the project is coming together at a far more rapid pace than it’s seen over the past two decades, it could still use a boost, Rigby told participants in the session.
“That’s a moving target as far as fundraising goes. It’s not a huge project as far as construction goes, but there are some pretty specific programming elements and equipment elements,” he explained.
“We’ll see what 2021 delivers to the fundraising community. There’s certainly a lot of great projects that are waiting in line and there a lot of other issues — obviously — with COVID and some of the economic things.”
Click here to support the project with a donation.
A third and final information session is scheduled for Jan. 7 as the organization reveals the project’s expected impact on the East Side community.