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Disney, DeSantis-backed board comes to its senses in new deal

Disney, DeSantis-backed board comes to its senses in new deal
Disney, DeSantis-backed board comes to its senses in new deal



In a development deal unanimously approved Wednesday night, Disney promises to invest up to $17 billion in its Florida resort over the next 10 to 20 years and sets the framework for possible park expansion theme.

The 15-year deal was negotiated as part of a settlement following a years-long legal dispute between Disney and Gov. Ron DeSantis. The newly renamed entity, Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, oversees all public services in the Walt Disney World resort area and now has a board of directors selected by the governor.

I would say it's a huge deal and both sides have come to their senses, said Aubrey Jewett, a political science professor at the University of Central Florida. And realize that this is the best way to go.

After the vote, board supervisor Brian Aungst Jr. said it was the day we had all been looking forward to.

He said he uses the term we to encompass everyone who has a stake in the matter, from Florida residents to area business owners to Disney employees.

Walt Disney World is inextricably linked to the social fabric of the state of Florida. And Walt Disney World's success is Central Florida's success, and vice versa, he said.

Wednesday evening, Walt Disney World Resort Chairman Jeff Vahle said: “This new development agreement paves the way for us to invest billions of dollars in Walt Disney World Resort, supporting the growth of this global destination, fueling the Florida's economy and allowing us to deliver even more memorable and extraordinary experiences to our guests.

The deal sets expectations for what services Disney may need CFTOD to provide in the coming years as it seeks to expand.

The promised spending of up to $17 billion is part of Disney's previous announcement that the company would invest a total of $60 billion in global parks and cruises over the next 10 years.

As Disney begins such projects, CFTOD is responsible for maintaining infrastructure in the theme park area, such as roads and bridges, fire services, emergency medical response, wastewater and electricity production.

Disney World has agreed to fund $10 million in feasible housing projects and create a local business hiring program where more than half of the value of all construction work will go to Florida-based companies.

THE the agreement also shows two tables, vaguely describing Disney's overall plan of five major theme parks and five minor theme parks, although Disney has not clarified whether these numbers indicate an eventual goal of building that many parks in the region.

The Disney World resort is currently home to four theme parks and two water parks.

Of the $17 billion, I think $8 to $10 billion will be spent on a new fifth gate. It's been 26 years since Disney opened a new theme park in Florida, said Dennis Speigel, owner and founder of International Theme Park Services, a global consultant for theme park projects.

Speigel, who is not involved in Disney's plans, said the company needs to build a fifth theme park to maintain its role as Orlando's leading theme park as rival Universal shrinks. is preparing to open its new theme park, Epic Universe, in 2025.

But the launch of new Disney World projects had been complicated in recent years due to Disney's legal woes against the state of Florida.

In 2022, Governor DeSantis signed the so-called “Don't Say Gay” bill into law, prohibiting educators from teaching about sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The law also prohibits all K-12 public school employees and contractors from using students' preferred personal pronoun if that pronoun does not correspond to the person's gender.

After Disney's initial silence on the issue, then-CEO Bob Chapek publicly took a stand against the law amid growing pressure from employees.

In what was seen as retaliation, DeSantis then dissolved the Reedy Creek Special Improvement District, created by the Florida Legislature and effectively gave Disney the power to control municipal services around its theme parks that did not exist before the arrival of Walt Disney and his builders in Florida. It had been in place at Disney World since 1967 and freed Disney from red tape, making it cheaper to borrow to finance infrastructure projects around its theme parks, among other important benefits.

This special arrangement, while sometimes criticized, has been largely protected by state politicians as Disney and Florida have benefited from the tourism boom.

All Reedy Creek board members were selected by Disney because a special district government was set up where each landowner got one vote per acre, Jewett said. And since Disney owns 80% of the properties in this district, of course they controlled all the votes.

Jewett said if Disney wanted to do something at Disney World, Reedy Creek would accept it.

There was no mystery, Jewett said.

But dissolving the special district would have saddled local taxpayers with Disney's debts and provided public services for the 25,000-acre resort.

Instead, DeSantis kept the district but changed its name. He also changed control of the board of directors to appoint its supervisors.

Jewett said DeSantis turned up the heat at one point by suggesting they might allow a competing theme park to be built on or near Disney property, or perhaps they would install a jail or prison . He openly and sometimes more discreetly threatened Disney.

In May 2023, Disney canceled plans to build a new $1 billion campus in Florida, which would have created 2,000 jobs in the state.

In January, a federal judge dismissed a lawsuit filed by Disney accusing DeSantis of using his political power as a weapon to punish the company for exercising his free speech rights.

In March, as part of a settlement, Disney and Florida also agreed to drop various statewide lawsuits filed against each other.

There was a lot of work behind the scenes. By then, DeSantis had his presidential ambitions, at least for the moment, challenged, and he had faced resistance from a number of Republicans, Jewett said.

Speigel said: “It was a lose-lose situation when they broke up. It’s a win-win situation to get back together. Orlando is the mecca of the theme park industry, and for that to work, Disney and Florida have to work together.




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