Redevelopment of Laugh-O-Gram could honor Disney, revitalize neighborhoods

Photo circa 1935. Courtesy Kansas City Public Library, Missouri Valley Special Collections.

Photo circa 1935. Courtesy Kansas City Public Library, Missouri Valley Special Collections.

A feasibility study on redevelopment of the historic Walt Disney Studio at 31st and Forest finds significant potential for creating a joint use museum, office space and digital storytelling center at the site. In addition, the study suggests the redevelopment could spur new growth and innovation in the area, which is the crossroads of four Midtown neighborhoods: Center City, North Hyde Park, Union Hill and Mt. Hope.

The Laugh-O-Gram Studio could be a focal point for investment in the growing local digital storytelling industry, and that could spur economic reinvestment in the surrounding area, according to Jeremy Knoll of BNIM, who shared some of the findings with the Troost Alliance yesterday.

Knoll said the feasibility study, which was an effort to ascertain whether there would be a market for redevelopment, used community input to develop a concept that includes four distinct activities taking place in the building.

“In order for the development to be successful, these four activities all have to be present,” he said.

The activities include a welcome center with an outdoor theater, retail area and community meeting space; a museum of animation which could include a recreation of the 1922 Laugh-O-Gram Studio and interactive exhibits; a co-work office space for entrepreneurs working in the digital storytelling business; and a flexible studio space that could be used for training, classes and screenings.

The study showed there is a great deal of potential for a site with these four elements, he said.

“We may find the next Walt Disney from that effort,” Knoll said.

Not just Disney, but other founding fathers of American animation studios including Hanna Barbara, Looney Tunes and Warner Brothers worked with Disney at the Laugh-O-Gram studio, Knoll said. Their legacy would be preserved in the museum exhibits in addition to Disney’s.

The study found there are 35,000 people working in the digital storytelling industry in the Kansas City region today, with a projected growth to 40,000 jobs by 2022. It includes the use of computers, digital and web tools to tell stories. Digital media workers produce products from animated features to smartphone and tablet apps to story-based computer games.

Knoll said the study found a nonprofit ownership model has the best chance for success. The next step in the process will be an official launch next month.

The feasibility study was funded in part by a grant from the Economic Development Administration and was administered by the Mid-America Regional Council.


  1. Dan says:

    Not sure how this crossroads includes the Union Hill neighborhood (west of Gilham) – more like Longfellow which is east of Gilham to Troost. Also, I would certainly include Beacon Hill, which borders this property. Just as you would be careful about the “midtown” neighborhoods south of 31st, please be accurate about those north of 31st. It ain’t all Union Hill.

  2. Nikolai says:

    What is digital story telling? How is it different, or is it different, than any other media today?

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