Could there be new life for the Laugh-O-Gram building, the place where Walt Disney got his start in film?

It’s sad in a way that an empty, unassuming brick building at the southwest corner of East 31st Street and Forest Avenue houses an important piece of Kansas City’s heritage.

It’s there, at the two-story building just off Troost Park, where Walt Disney got his start as a filmmaker in 1922, and, as legend has it, where he spied a rodent that would later serve as his inspiration for Mickey Mouse.

Kansas City often does well at remembering its past and marketing it (think Disney, jazz, aviation and so on) but sometimes falls short in protecting the physical remnants of its traditions.

Disney’s old work space at 1127 East 31st Street once occupied a spot on Kansas City’s demolition list. The roof fell apart, and the second floor caved in. It was saved by Thank You Walt Disney, a nonprofit with lawyer, real-estate investor and film enthusiast Butch Rigby as its board chairman. Rigby’s nonprofit took the building from a half-collapsed husk of a structure into a place that’s mostly ready for occupancy.

By sparing the building from the wrecking ball, Rigby’s group preserved the place where Disney produced animated versions of various fairy tales, including Little Red Riding Hood and Alice In Wonderland.

The Mid-America Regional Council won a $51,000 grant from the U.S. Economic Development Administration to study potential re-adaptations for the building. Barbara Hensley, a spokeswoman for MARC, tells The Pitch that partners in Laugh-O-Gram’s revitalization would like to see the building house some type of digital media or animated storytelling use, in keeping with the property’s past.

MARC studied the digital storytelling sector (which is largely tied to advertising and marketing) in Kansas City last year and found that the industry has 34,743 jobs in the area; it predicts that number will grow by 15 percent by 2022.

Rigby says he’s been in touch with Ron Green, founder of the Digital Storytelling Center of Kansas City, about how the old Laugh-O-Gram studio could become a hub for young animators and digital artists.

“I’m very hopeful this becomes a key part of Troost,” Rigby tells The Pitch.

One of the initial steps in determining its feasibility is a neighborhood meeting from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Kansas City Scottish Rite Building Auditorium, 1330 Linwood Boulevard. MARC says nearby residents, businesses and community organizations, and digital professionals are welcome to offer their ideas for how the building’s repurposing could interact with the surrounding neighborhoods.

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