Thank You Walt Disney gets $2 million in federal funding for 31st Street studio renovations, community projects

Dan Viets, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, and Butch Rigby stand during press conference for Thank You Walt Disney.

Walt Disney Historian Dan Viets, Rep. Emanuel Cleaver, and Thank You Walt Disney founder Butch Rigby speak during the press conference. // Photo by Sarah Moore

U.S. Representative Emanuel Cleaver, D-MO, presented a check for $2 million to Thank You Walt Disney, Inc. at a press conference, Feb. 22. This funding will be used to restore Walt Disney’s historic studio and open it to the public as offices, a museum, and space for kids to train in digital media.

This is part of $40 million of federal funding Rep. Cleaver secured to give to 15 community projects that he is a part of and that will directly benefit residents of his district.

Rep. Cleaver expressed that, like many of us, Walt Disney holds a special place in his heart which is part of the reason this project is important to him. 

He remembers his family had the only TV in the community housing building where he grew up, and every Sunday they would turn the TV to the window and play The Wonderful World of Disney to a crowd of neighbors. He couldn’t help but sing a little bit of “When You Wish Upon a Star,” while reminiscing.

For Rep. Cleaver and the founder Thank You Walt Disney, Butch Rigby, the Laugh-O-Gram studio located one street off Troost, will bring more opportunities to an area of Kansas City that is being rebuilt.

Kids in the community will have the unique opportunity to learn digital media skills in the building where Walt Disney started his career. They will be able to harness a skill that will provide opportunity and entrepreneurship.

In addition, the authentic recreation of Walt Disney’s office will further prove the historical significance of Kansas City.

Dan Viets, member of the board and author of Walt Disney’s Missouri, says that it is hypothesized that Kansas City is where Disney first came up with the idea for Mickey Mouse, after watching the mice that scurried in this studio. 

“I am as happy as a Mahomes at Disney the day after a Chiefs Super Bowl win to have secured this federal funding for the rehabilitation of the historic Laugh-O-Gram Studio,” Rep. Cleaver says. The efforts of Thank You Walt Disney, Inc. to preserve and restore this landmark to its glory for future generations of innovators and entrepreneurs makes a clear statement that Kansas City isn’t some Mickey Mouse town, but a city of great historical significance, at the forefront of innovation and community.”

The Thank You Walt Disney Inc. board of directors has been working on rebuilding the Laugh-O-Gram studio since the early 2000s. With this funding and the hard work of their members and volunteers they are starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel.

In addition, the MO Development Finance Board gave unanimous approval to Thank You Walt Disney for $500,000 of tax credits. This gives the program 51% of the necessary funds for redevelopment.

However, Thank You Walt Disney still has $3.4 million to go. To donate to the program or to find other ways to help visit their website for more information.

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