TALLAHASSEE, FL – A bill was passed by the Florida Legislature and signed into law by Governor Ron DeSantis in February that removed Walt Disney World’s ability to effectively self-govern its property and replaced it with a new state-controlled governing body.
The law removed the Reedy Creek Improvement District – which covers nearly 40 square miles in Orange and Osceola counties – and replaced it with a new entity known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which would oversee the entirety of Disney’s theme park attractions, including Disney World, EPCOT, and more.
The five-member board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District was entirely handpicked by DeSantis.
However, it appears that the Governor’s bid to take over the Reedy Creek Improvement District – a promise that he made in 2022 after a spat with the entertainment giant over their public opposition to a state law that restricts teacher/student discussion on gender and sexual identity in school classrooms – has seemingly backfired due to a loophole in the agreement that may strip the new board members of nearly all of their oversight ability.
The agreement in question was approved by the previous board on February 8, the day before DeSantis assumed control of Disney’s land, and invokes a law known as Rule Against Perpetuities, setting the date for “twenty one (21) years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles IIII, King of England living as of the date of this Declaration.”
The new agreement grants Disney numerous and vast powers – despite the dissolution of the Reedy Creek Improvement District – such as development rights until 2053, as well as the authority to approve any design improvements or changes.
Ron Peri, a member of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board, said during a meeting on Wednesday that this under-the-radar agreement basically strips him and his colleagues of nearly any power they otherwise would have had over Disney World.
“This essentially makes Disney the government,” he said. “This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure.”
Disney has controlled the district since it was first established in 1967, which allowed the theme park to handle its own 911 calls, fire protection, the power grid, planning and land use decisions, road maintenance, mosquito abatement, flood control, and water quality.
Brian Aungst, a member of the board, said during a meeting on Wednesday that several law firms have been retained to investigate the current situation.
“We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it,” he said. “It’s a subversion of the will of the voters and the Legislature and the governor. It completely circumvents the authority of this board to govern.”
A third board member, Bridget Ziegler, said that “if unlawful actions were taken, this development agreement will be nullified.”