.comment-link {margin-left:.6em;}

Friday, December 3

A Murder in Paradise

The first phase of residential development occurred in the summer of 1996 with Celebration Village, West Village and Lake Evalyn; this was followed by the North Village, South Village, East Village and Aquila Reserve and the final Artisan Park phases.

Disney CEO Michael Eisner took an especially keen interest in the development of the new town in the early days, encouraging the executives at Disney Development Company to "make history" and develop a town worthy of the Disney brand and legacy that extended to Walt Disney's vision of an Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow (EPCOT).

DDC executives collaborated extensively with leaders in education, health and technology in addition to planners and architects to create the vision and operating policies for the town.

Critics of Celebration viewed it as something akin to "The Truman Show" or "The Stepford Wives." Fans of the project saw a return to small-town values, a walkable community and safety.(1)
Some say the town of Celebration reminds them of the dystopian satire, The Stepford Wives. No, Celebration was paradise, once upon a time, as close to paradise as it gets on earth. It was just so incredibly normal, without all the rubbernecking and jockeying for attention that goes with the haunts of the fabulously rich.

Normal people -- people who don't want too much or too little out of life -- aren't happy, so the conventional wisdom of the snobbiste goes. Well, they can be. Were. Once upon a time. Before the tentacles of the burst housing bubble and the financial crisis reached into Celebration, like kudzu creeping up a morning-glory vine. Before the SWAT teams showed up.

Celebration, Florida has its first killing
by Kim Severson
The New York Times, December 2, 2010

CELEBRATION, Fla. — As if the Thanksgiving murder were not enough to ruin things in this subdivision that Disney designed. Now, tanks and SWAT teams?

Here in a community built 14 years ago by the Walt Disney Company as the happiest subdivision on earth — and which, to be fair, has been largely free from urban strife — two major crimes in the span of less than a week have made even the fake snow that blankets the town square every evening hour on the hour seem a little less cheery.

Late into Thursday night, sheriff’s deputies barricaded several blocks in this neo-traditional town of 10,000 people and miles of white rail fencing, trying to talk a despondent and possibly armed man out of his home.

Earlier, the schoolhouse near the town square was locked down. Buzzing helicopters interrupted horse-and-carriage rides. Even the holiday cocktail party at the golf course was canceled.

But the situation, which a sheriff’s deputy described as a domestic dispute involving a father who had lost a job and his marriage, was not even the worst of it in Celebration.

Sometime over Thanksgiving weekend, Matteo Patrick Giovanditto, 58, was murdered, the Osceola County Sheriff’s Office said. It was the first murder in Celebration history. Concerned neighbors who had not heard from him went into his first-floor condo, one block from the artificial ice rink on the town square. He was on the floor covered with a blanket, according to the police.

Officers later located his black Corvette in a nearby town, but have yet to make an arrest. Residents were assured that there was nothing to fear.

“They’ve got some really substantial leads,” said a sheriff’s spokeswoman, Twis Lizasuain. “We haven’t disclosed what we found, but it was a big break in the case to find the vehicle.”

Mr. Giovanditto, who was from Massachusetts, moved to Florida in the 1980s to teach, his cousin, Theresa Troiano, said from Tewksbury, Mass.

“He was a wonderful young man from a big New England family,” she said. “We hope there is swift justice.”

Mr. Giovanditto moved to Celebration in 2004. He lived with his Chihuahua, Lucy, neighbors said. His house was a popular destination for trick-or-treaters, and he frequently weighed in on the Front Porch, a kind of Facebook for Celebration residents.

“He was a good guy online,” said Alex Morton, the publisher of the monthly Celebration Independent and one of the first people to buy a house when the subdivision opened in 1996.

“This town is all corporate executives and golden parachuters,” said Mr. Morton, who was holding up the printing of his paper until he had more news on the murder and, now, the standoff happening a few blocks from his tiny newspaper office.

The killing of Mr. Giovanditto was a crack in the facade of this community, a 10-minute drive from Disney World, that was just too hard to ignore — especially with the standoff coming right on its heels.

“It’s like Manhattan!” said Vince Cassaro. He ought to know. The former Connecticut resident worked in New York City before moving his family here 12 years ago.

Had residents ever seen a SWAT team in town before?

“Maybe for the Boy Scouts when they do a display, but that’s about it,” said Jeffry Ewing, a resident who had to stop work on a house renovation that was within the police perimeter.

Of course, there have been other indications here that the ride might be over. Smaller crimes are not unheard of. In 1998, a robber who said he had a gun threatened a family and robbed them in their home. It was the town’s first reported violent crime.

No, those aren't church spires; they're part of Celebration's movie theater

The economy has taken some of the shine from the streets, too. On Thanksgiving Day, the movie theater, which proudly showed its share of Disney films, went out of business. And there is no one who has not been hoping that home prices stop dropping. At their peak, homes sold for an average of $1 million. Now, they might go for half that.

Glenn Williams, who was watching the sheriff’s deputies block the roads, said the price of his house had fallen to about $360,000 now from $825,000 two years ago.

Like others, he was sad for the families involved in the standoff and the murder.

“But I’m surprised it’s been this long before something happened,” Mr. Williams said.
Part of police blockade on Thursday
Photo: Chip Litherland for The New York Times

1) From Wikipedia article on Celebration

Labels: ,

Comments: Post a Comment

Links to this post:

Create a Link

<< Home

This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?