Disney Outmaneuvers Florida Governor to Maintain Control of Theme Park District

Disney has come under scrutiny after it was revealed that the company may have outmaneuvered Florida Governor Ron DeSantis to maintain control over its theme park district in Central Florida. Last year, DeSantis urged Republicans in the state Legislature to strip Disney of its special district status in Orlando after the company opposed a bill limiting classroom discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity.[0] DeSantis’ request was adhered to by the state legislature, resulting in the appointment of the new board by DeSantis.[1] However, an obscure agreement made by the previous board just before DeSantis took control of the district may have stripped the new board of its power. The agreement, effective in perpetuity or until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III of England, gives Disney more oversight of the new board when managing the company’s theme park district.[2] Lawyers for the new board said that Disney has veto authority over any public project in the district, and the board loses the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintaining the roads and basic infrastructure.[3]

The agreement, known as the “declaration of restrictive covenants,” prohibits the district from using the Disney name or any symbols associated with the theme park resort without the company’s permission, nor can it use the likeness of Mickey Mouse, other Disney characters or any other Disney-owned intellectual property in any manner.[4] The company can sue for damages for any violations.[4] Additionally, the agreement states that Disney must review any exterior changes to the district’s buildings to ensure consistent “theming” with Disney World.[5]

The move by DeSantis to strip Disney of its self-governing privileges came in retaliation to the company’s public opposition to the Parental Bill of Right law, which was pushed through by DeSantis and has been criticized as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”[6] Speaking at the Reedy Creek firehouse on February 27 when signing the bill, DeSantis said that Disney’s opposition to the bill was a “mild annoyance,” but that the state of Florida will no longer be “joined at the hip with one California-based company.”[6] After signing the bill, DeSantis said, “the corporate kingdom finally came to an end.”[6]

The revelation that Disney may have outmaneuvered DeSantis to maintain control over its theme park district is another setback for the governor, whose momentum has slowed considerably in recent weeks, fueling questions about his ability to take on former President Donald Trump.[1] DeSantis’ move to take over Walt Disney World’s governing board in Florida may have backfired due to the prior obscure agreement.[7] Right now, it appears that Disney has nullified DeSantis’ power, and his reputation as somebody who can take the anger of the GOP base and channel it into significant policy changes could take a hit, along with his ability to tout a victory over Disney on the campaign trail.[1]

The agreement between Disney and the former board was approved on February 8, just as the Florida House passed the legislation to take control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was controlled by Disney.[3] The 151-page agreement gives Disney final say over many building projects and development rights in the district and bars the new board from using the Disney name or any “fanciful characters” owned by Disney, including Mickey Mouse.[8] The Central Florida Tourism Oversight board, along with their legal representatives, have stated that Walt Disney World has been granted the highest achievable limits for building heights and density.[9] Disney’s authorization will be required for other landowners who wish to expand their properties within the district. Additionally, if any aesthetic modifications are made to their properties within the district, both Reedy Creek leaders and property owners must seek approval from Disney.[9]

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s chief of staff, James Percival, has demanded emails, text messages, and other communications “discussing an intentional goal of circumventing, avoiding, frustration, mitigating or otherwise attempting to avoid the effects of anticipated actions by the Florida Governor and Florida Legislature.”[10] An initial review by DeSantis’ office suggests that the agreements between Disney and the district may have significant legal infirmities that would render them void as a matter of law. The new governor-appointed board has retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior.[5]

Disney has been running its vast theme park and resort in Florida for almost sixty years, situated in a specially designated district that spans across two counties.[7] The Reedy Creek Improvement District oversaw the area and had free reign of development processes, such as zoning and infrastructure, and even controlled its own fire department, operating like a separate municipal government.[7] District board members could also be appointed by Disney.[11] The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District was established by the legislation to replace the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which was under the control of Disney, as the governing entity for Disney’s properties.[1] By enabling DeSantis to appoint board members for the new district, he gained a degree of control over the company in Florida.[1]

0. “‘King Charles clause’ limits new board overseeing Disney World, put in place after DeSantis’ feud” ABA Journal, 31 Mar. 2023, https://www.abajournal.com/news/article/king-charles-clause-limits-new-board-overseeing-disney-world-put-in-place-after-desantis-feud

1. “Battered by Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis stumbles again on Disney” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 31 Mar. 2023, https://www.heraldtribune.com/story/news/politics/2023/03/31/florida-governor-ron-desantis-disney-battle-embarrassment-dims-presidential-hopes-setback-trump/70064699007/

2. “Disney sidesteps DeSantis board with royal clause” BBC, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-65120369

3. “DeSantis teases ‘more to come’ on latest twist in Disney battle: ‘You ain’t seen nothing yet'” CNN, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/03/30/politics/desantis-disney-battle/index.html

4. “Quietly, Disney May Have Undermined DeSantis’ New Governing Board” Insurance Journal, 31 Mar. 2023, https://www.insurancejournal.com/news/southeast/2023/03/31/714601.htm

5. “DeSantis’ Reedy Creek board says Disney stripped its power” Orlando Sentinel, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/news/os-ne-disney-new-reedy-creek-board-powerless-20230329-qalagcs4wjfe3iwkpzjsz2v4qm-story.html

6. “Parts of Disney’s last-minute agreement with Reedy Creek that may render the new DeSantis board powerless are …” wdwmagic.com, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.wdwmagic.com/other/reedy-creek-improvement-district/news/29mar2023-parts-of-disneys-last-minute-agreement-with-reedy-creek-that-may-render-the-new-desantis-board-powerless-are-valid-until-21-years-after-the-death-of-the-last-survivor-of-the-descendants-of-king-charles-iii-of-england.htm

7. “DeSantis’ board overseeing Disney district may be powerless” Business Insider, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/desantis-board-overseeing-disney-district-may-be-powerless-2023-3

8. “Disney tied the hands of new DeSantis-picked Disney World district board” The Week, 30 Mar. 2023, https://theweek.com/disney/1022229/disney-quietly-tied-the-hands-of-new-desantis-picked-disney-world-district-board-for

9. “Power play: Disney handicapped new Reedy Creek board before handing over control” WFTV Orlando, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.wftv.com/news/local/power-play-disney-handicapped-new-reedy-creek-board-before-handing-over-control/P5XHTWXIZZCCXFYXTOFKKQMLXY/

10. “Attorney General Ashley Moody steps into Disney fight, demands Reedy Creek records” Yahoo Entertainment, 31 Mar. 2023, https://www.yahoo.com/entertainment/florida-ag-steps-disney-fight-230332685.html

11. “Central Florida attorney weighs in on power struggle between Disney and DeSantis” WESH 2 Orlando, 31 Mar. 2023, https://www.wesh.com/article/florida-reedy-creek-records-demanded/43471712

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Scroll to Top