Disney Outmaneuvers Governor DeSantis in Central Florida Property Control Battle

Disney’s recent actions to secure its authority over its Central Florida property have put Governor Ron DeSantis’ attempts to strip some of its control in jeopardy. Disney was targeted by DeSantis following their public opposition to the Parental Rights in Education Act, which he successfully passed into law last year. Critics have referred to the act as the “Don’t Say Gay Bill.”[0] In order to grant the state with oversight over Disney’s properties in Central Florida, the governor summoned lawmakers for a special session to pass a bill.[0] However, Disney has revealed that all agreements signed between the company and the district were “appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law.”[1]

DeSantis’ anti-Disney crusade may have garnered him praise in conservative circles, but the plan largely unraveled, and he was ultimately forced to settle for a compromise punishment.[2] Last month, he signed a bill that took control of a special tax zone encompassing Walt Disney World.[3] For the past 50 years, Disney has been granted considerable autonomy by the Reedy Creek Development District to operate and expand.[3] The Republican initially planned to revoke Disney World’s designation as a special tax district, but when that proved untenable, he settled on a plan that gave him greater control over the local district’s board.[4] About a month ago, he passed the new policy into legislation.[4]

However, just 19 days before DeSantis signed the final bill, the former board had signed agreements with Disney essentially stripping the board of power and handing that power back to Disney.[3] These agreements gave Disney more oversight of the new board appointed by the governor when managing the company’s theme park district.[5] Under the agreement, quietly approved on February 8 as Florida lawmakers met in a special session to hand DeSantis control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney will maintain control over much of the district for 30 years.[6] The attorneys representing the new board claimed that Disney holds the power to veto any public project within the district.[6]

The revelation that Disney may have outmaneuvered DeSantis to strip authority from a board he appointed to govern the company’s Central Florida property is another setback for a governor whose momentum has slowed considerably in recent weeks, fueling questions about his ability to take on former President Donald Trump. The agreement the Reedy Creek board made with Disney is effective in perpetuity, but if a judge voids that, it would last 21 years past the death of any currently living heirs of England’s King Charles.[7]

The new board members, who are now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight board, and their attorneys, have said that Disney is allowed the maximum possible density and building heights inside Walt Disney World.[8] If any other property owners within the district wish to expand or make aesthetic changes to their properties, they will be required to seek Disney’s permission. In addition, Reedy Creek leaders also need to obtain Disney’s approval before making any changes to properties within the district.[8] The previous board also agreed to give Disney vast authority over its buildings, according to its declaration.[9] As per the agreement, Disney is required to assess all modifications made to the buildings in the district’s vicinity to maintain a coherent “theming” in line with Disney World.[9]

Attorney General Ashley Moody’s office has sent a records request to the district and former board members asking for documents and communications related to the February 8 vote.[10] Moody’s office cautioned the ex-board members in a letter about facing “civil and criminal penalties” if they fail to provide any relevant documents.[6] Meanwhile, board member Brian Aungst Jr. has said that the new board will have to deal with the last-minute agreements and correct them, as they are a subversion of the will of the voters, legislature and governor, and completely circumvent the authority of the board to govern.[11]

0. “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/

1. “Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board to wage fight against Disney” WESH 2 Orlando, 29 Mar. 2023, https://www.wesh.com/article/central-florida-tourism-oversight-board-fight-disney/43455104

2. “DeSantis’ Disney fail is a reality check. Authoritarianism is hard.” MSNBC, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.msnbc.com/the-reidout/reidout-blog/desantis-disney-fail-reality-check-authoritarianism-hard-rcna77421

3. “DeSantis, the Disney board and King Charles III: A power struggle, explained” NPR, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/03/30/1167042594/disney-desantis-board-reedy-creek-charles

4. “Did Disney pull a fast one ahead of DeSantis’ takeover scheme?” MSNBC, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.msnbc.com/rachel-maddow-show/maddowblog/disney-pull-fast-one-ahead-desantis-takeover-scheme-rcna77405

5. “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

6. “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

7. “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

8. “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/

9. “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

10. “Attorney General Ashley Moody steps into Disney fight, demands Reedy Creek records” WFTV Orlando, 31 Mar. 2023, https://www.wftv.com/news/local/florida-ag-steps-into-disney-fight-demands-reedy-creek-records/LBKK7KKI25FNRLGSMOJ7UHYOQU/

11. “Disney v DeSantis dispute hinges on clause referencing King Charles III” The Guardian US, 30 Mar. 2023, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2023/mar/30/disney-ron-desantis-florida-dont-say-gay

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