DeSantis To Take Control of Disney Reedy Creek District!

In light of his ongoing dispute with Disney, Florida lawmakers decided Thursday to grant Governor Ron DeSantis new authority over the state’s most famous theme parks.

The state would take over the Reedy Creek Improvement District. This 55-year-old governmental organization has effectively given Disney control over the land surrounding its theme parks in the Orlando region under a fast-tracked bill that might be on the Republican governor’s desk by the end of the week. A five-person board chosen by DeSantis would replace the district’s current board, which comprises people with connections to Disney.

The state House approved the legislation, where Republicans have a supermajority, 82–31. Within the next 36 hours, the state Senate, governed by the GOP, is anticipated to take up the bill. If the chamber approves the account, DeSantis will have an ultimate say. We expect his signature.

“There’s a new sheriff in town, and that’s just how it’s going to be,” DeSantis said at Wednesday news conference.

Democrats cautioned DeSantis on Thursday that if he battles with Disney once more as part of his campaign against “wokeness,” he may use his board appointments to influence Disney management.

Rita Harris, a state representative, cited Disney’s recent removal of references to racist themes from its Splash Mountain ride, a change that angered some conservatives. As a ride honoring Disney’s first Black princess, it will become Tiana’s Bayou Adventure.

“What if that offended the governor?” Harris questioned at the debate. Would the board then be able to pressure a company into altering its business strategy to avoid misalignment? The marketplaces here are not free.

The takeover of Reedy Creek is the most recent development in a year-long spat between DeSantis and Disney over a law that would limit some classroom discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity.

 DeSantis signed the bill into law over the objections of Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek. Disney, in a statement, vowed to help get the law repealed or struck down by the courts.

DeSantis urged lawmakers to deprive Disney of its unique governing authority in response to the danger. During a special session last year, they complied with his request, voting to disband the Reedy Creek Improvement District at the end of May 2023.

DeSantis used his criticism of Disney as material for campaign speeches and fundraising letters right away. Still, lawmakers at the time neglected to address what would happen to the special district after that.

DeSantis and lawmakers failed to present a strategy for ending Disney’s 50-year monopoly or to ensure the people of Orange and Osceola counties wouldn’t be responsible for paying Reedy Creek’s $1 billion debt.

DeSantis To Take Control of Disney Reedy Creek District!

In the aftermath, Reedy Creek informed its bondholders that dissolving the district without Florida taking up its obligations would violate the 1967 state law that established the community. The debt of Reedy Creek Improvement District was placed on watch for a low bond rating by Fitch Ratings Group.

The Florida legislature’s bill, proposed this week in a special session, would maintain Reedy Creek, albeit with a new name—the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District—and a board allied with DeSantis.

The legislation makes it clear that the modifications to Reedy Creek should not impact the district’s current obligations or contracts and would prolong its existence past June.

In a statement to CNN earlier this week, Jeff Vahle, the president of Walt Disney World Resort, said the company is “monitoring the progression of the draft legislation, which is complex given the long history of the Reedy Creek Improvement District.”

Regardless of the verdict, Vahle said, “Disney works under several different models and jurisdictions worldwide, and we are committed to offering the greatest quality experience for the millions of guests that visit each year.”

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The plan “appears to address fundamental issues established following last year’s dissolution legislation,” according to Michael Rinaldi, head of local government ratings at Fitch. It would likely end the negative bond rating watch.

According to its website, the Reedy Creek special district spans over 25,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties and includes the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista as well as four theme parks, two water parks, a sports complex, 175 lane miles of road, and 67 miles of canal.

Thanks to the agreement, Disney has developed into a sizable hub for family-friendly travel and a significant contributor to Central Florida’s economy. Disney has done this by utilizing the district’s borrowing and taxing powers to construct infrastructure around the theme parks.

As required by law, the Reedy Creek board comprises landowners with solid links to Disney. The bill submitted on Monday requires that none of the governor’s appointees can be current Disney employees, their relatives, or employees of rival companies.

The ultimate approval of the appointments would come from the state Senate, where Republicans also have a supermajority. By allowing one individual to fill all five slots, said Rep. Anna Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat who attempted to add local elected officials to the board but was unsuccessful, “We’re taking one terrible swamp, and we’re creating another swamp.” And the only explanation I can think of is that Disney enraged the governor by standing up for LGBTQ+ children.

Despite ending some never-used rights to build an airport or a nuclear power plant and limiting the use of eminent domain beyond the district’s borders to grab land that may be used to benefit Disney, the bill would maintain many of the district’s current powers.

“This is something that we should have done as a legislature decades ago,” Republican state Rep. Randy Fine said Thursday. “But because of the power of corporations, we could not. Today we make the playing field equal.”

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