It was so secret it was discussed in whispers with a special code name inside the state government, and flew under the radar.
But the Walt Disney Company's plan to put a Disney Resort on prime waterfront land around White Bay and Glebe Island in 2007-08 was no mickey mouse plan.
Instead, glossy proposal documents seen by Fairfax Media reveal for the first time that the company was deadly serious in its pitch for what it called ''Disney Wharf at Sydney Harbour''.
It was a grand vision, incorporating not just so-called ''classic Disney'' elements, but also themed hotels, a marina and ferry wharf, two new light-rail stations, a retail space, an entertainment quarter and a residential development.
The old White Bay power station was to have been reborn as a design studio and arts centre, the concrete waste of Glebe Island would have blossomed into ''Fantasia Gardens'' with hedges cut in the shape of Disney characters, and just a short stroll away would have been what the designers termed a ''high-energy NY theatre-style district''.
There would have been a yacht club family resort and ''upscale'' residential developments in Disney Village on the northern end of White Bay, together with a Disney town centre (billed as offering ''prime waterfront office space'') and a Disney university and hospitality school.
There would have been Nemo-themed attractions in the theme park area, Peter Pan and Dumbo rides and actors in Disney character costume entertaining visitors as they traipsed in and out of retail outlets such as the ''Goofy Candy Store'' and the ''Princesses'' boutique.
''Project Lester'', as it was code named, was described as ''an integrated Disney destination to live, work, play and learn'' with the promoters promising it would enhance real estate values on the site itself and in the immediate neighbourhood.
The company said the proposed harbourside complex would ''refresh the city's tourism offerings'' and draw patrons from ''all over Australia and the world''.
But the response inside the state government was mixed. The local politics were seen as a huge challenge for a Labor administration, with one insider recalling fears that it ''wouldn't have gone down at all well with the denizens of neighbouring Balmain and Rozelle''.
Among ministers, the most enthusiastic was the now-disgraced Ian Macdonald, who held the state development portfolio. Then-premier Morris Iemma and then-treasurer Michael Costa were involved in high-level talks on the project but their interest waned as the scale of infrastructure investment expected by Disney became apparent.
''When they started looking at the infrastructure costs, they just went cold,'' said one senior insider, who recalled a starting figure of $500 million for the rail wharf and road changes that the project would have required.
Another objection from senior members of the bureaucracy was that the plan from Disney was really a ''development proposal dressed up as fun park''.
''One of the main reasons we entertained the idea at the start was that … it was a fabulous site, close to the city, and instead of more million-dollar apartments, we thought why not look at something potentially more interesting'' said one source who looked closely at the project.
''But in the end, it was difficult to get detailed proposals from them in writing, and there was always doubt over whether it could work.''
A spokeswoman for Walt Disney Parks and Resorts said the company was always looking to grow its business and ''as part of that process, we have conversations with many different entities''. The company would not comment on the Sydney proposal.
The site remains largely a concrete expanse, housing a temporary exhibition centre and a cruise passenger terminal.