Walt Disney World No Longer a Self-Governed Special District

The culture war is determining the powers of special districts in Florida, as exemplified by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signing HB 9-B, thus rescinding a special district created 50 years ago to manage land and infrastructure around Disney World.

2 minute read

March 3, 2023, 5:00 AM PST

By James Brasuell @CasualBrasuell

A view of the entrance to Walt Disney World reads “Where Dreams Come True.”

VIAVAL TOURS / Shutterstock

On February 27, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed House Bill (HB) 9-B, which rescinds self-governing status and special privileges provided to Walt Disney World through the Reedy Creek Improvement District, according to a press release published the same day.

The bill also creates a new district, controlled by the state, and sets forth the district’s authority to raise revenue and pay outstanding bonds and other obligations. “This legislation ends Disney’s self-governing status, makes Disney live under the same laws as everybody else, and ensures that Disney pays its debts and fair share of taxes,” according to a statement by Gov. DeSantis.

Those who have been following the story will recall that the legislation grew from the controversy surrounding the governor’s “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” HB 1557, which Disney opposed with a strongly worded statement last year. The press release doesn’t mention the “Don’t Say Gay Bill,” but does give some indication that the bill pertains to some larger political conflict, by including a list of changes enacted by the law, which includes the curious item “PREVENTS leftist local governments from using the situation to raise local taxes” among less political charged items such as “ENDS Disney’s exemption from state regulatory reviews and approvals” and the somewhat contradictory “ENSURES that Disney will pay its fair share of taxes.”

News coverage of HB 9-B approval is all over the political grievance angle. An article by Sabina Graves for Gizmodo, for example, describes the bill as “homophobic and transgressive.” The Gizmodo article also provides links to the background on the story of how Gov. DeSantis’ efforts in the culture war contributed to this decision with repercussions for infrastructure and development in this corner of Florida.

A separate article by Alison Durkee for Forbes provides additional analysis of the consequences of the bill’s adoption. Durkee reports, for example that the Reedy Creek Improvement District, once directed by a board filled with Disney-selected appointees will be renamed as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and reformed with appointees selected by the governor.

Interestingly, the governor might have had reason to dissolve the district separate from his homophobic agenda. The Reedy Creek Improvement District has been a source of controversy in the annals of planning history, separate from the role of Disney World itself in planning history, as collected and told in the book Project Future: The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World, which described the history of the district as a “land grab.”

Monday, February 27, 2023 in Governor Ron DeSantis

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