DeSantis announces legislation to revoke Disney’s 11th-hour agreement with outgoing district board

Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks at a news conference in Lake Buena Vista. (WJXT)

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference Monday afternoon in Lake Buena Vista to discuss the ongoing dispute between the state and Disney World over the governing of the theme park and its 27,000-acre property.

He announced legislative and Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board actions after the board said its Disney-controlled predecessors pulled a fast one by stripping the new board of most powers before DeSantis’ hand-picked members could take their seats.

DeSantis claims the agreements between the outgoing Reedy Creek Improvement District and Walt Disney World are riddled with legal deficiencies, including failure to provide required notices.

He called them a blatant attempt by a private corporation to subvert the will of Floridians through shady tactics.

“Disney’s corporate kingdom is over -- despite their repeated and futile attempts to circumvent the Legislature and the will of the people,” DeSantis said. “The agreements will be nullified by new legislation that I intend to execute. Disney will operate on a level playing field with every other business in Florida. I look forward to the additional actions that the state control board will implement in the upcoming days.”

According to DeSantis, Section 163.3241, Florida Statutes (F.S.), requires revocation of a development agreement if the Legislature subsequently enacts legislation that precludes compliance with the agreement. The proposed legislation would prevent compliance with “poison pill” agreements like the agreement executed by Disney and the prior Disney-controlled RCID board.

DeSantis’ appointees to Disney World’s governing board have also floated a resolution saying the board has “superior authority” over all land development decisions for the 27,000 acres that make up Walt Disney World, including for two tiny Disney controlled cities in the district. The board is set to vote on the resolution this week.

DeSantis said that action would declare the RCID development agreement void and unenforceable.

But experts said the latest proposed resolution won’t impact the previous board’s agreement with Disney.

“This is about the district controlled by the governor’s appointees passing a law that its land development rules prevail over the rules of the cities, which are still controlled by popular vote (made up entirely of Disney voters),” Jacob Schumer, an Orlando attorney specializing in local government and land use, said in an email.

The five new supervisors were appointed by the Republican governor after the Florida Legislature overhauled Disney’s government in retaliation for the entertainment giant publicly opposing the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” legislation barring school instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade.

The new supervisors replaced a board controlled by Disney for the previous 55 years, which operated as the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Among its last acts in February was giving Disney control over design and construction at the theme park resort. Reedy Creek board members also prohibited their successors from using the name “Disney” or any symbols associated with the theme park without the company’s permission, and barred the new board from using the likeness of Mickey Mouse, other Disney characters or other intellectual property.

Two tiny cities fall within the Disney district. According to the 2020 census, Bay Lake had 29 residents and Lake Buena Vista had 24. The two municipalities were formed to support the legal framework of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was established by the Florida Legislature in 1967.

The cities have elected city councils and mayors who contract with local law enforcement for police services at Disney World and could be used to assert the company’s autonomy over the resort. The cities’ residents are employees, former employees or others with close ties to Disney.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.