UPDATE: As of February 10, Florida lawmakers approved the bill discussed below, without protest from Disney. According to Jeff Vahle, president of the Walt Disney World Resort, “[w]e are focused on the future and are ready to work within this new framework and we will continue to innovate, inspire and bring joy to the millions of guests who come to Florida to visit Walt Disney World each year.” As suspected, and now confirmed by Variety, much of the district’s power remains in tact. It remains to be seen whether the changes will impact Disney World operations.
Last year, Florida Governor Rick DeSantis made it a point to go to war with The Walt Disney Company when he threatened to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District after Disney publicly denounced the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which prohibits certain classroom instruction for certain grade levels. Now that Chapek is out and Iger is back at the helm, it appears that DeSantis remains laser-focused on controlling Reedy Creek—but not dissolving it. Read on for the latest.
On Monday, Florida’s House of Representatives filed a new bill in what is the newest chapter in this now convoluted book. According to the Wall Street Journal, the bill alter how Reedy Creek board members will be appointed, and it would also change the name from the Reedy Creek Improvement District to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. DeSantis (and presumably successor governors) will have the authority to appoint said members, but the Florida senate would need to approve any appointments.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District, formed by Walt Disney himself in 1967, in its current form gives Disney wide latitude to develop the land that comprises the Walt Disney World Resort. The district gives Disney the flexibility to expand its theme parks and resorts, and, according to Richard Foglesong—a political science professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Florida, who writes about Disney—lets Disney develop property without paying costly “impact fees” which account for potential environmental impact. Disney maintains that the district pays for its own municipal services (e.g., roads, sewers), and pays millions in property taxes to the counties in which it sits.
As written, the new bill will not remove Reedy Creek’s special tax district status, nor will it require Disney to begin paying “impact fees.” In keeping the district in place, Disney will remain liable for municipal debt (instead of passing the burden for the debt onto nearby taxpayers).
It remains to be seen how this will impact Disney, a company used to calling the shots, so to speak, without much scrutiny at the Walt Disney World Resort. It is unclear whether the governor’s ability to appoint board members will impact how the board is managed, and what developments around Disney World could be impacted. It is also unclear how much longer Disney remains in such disfa or given the political climate and the return of our dear Bob Iger.
What I do know is that things are about to get interesting. The bill is expected to pass next week.