Disney World’s autonomy could be upset in ongoing battle with Florida governor

Change grip

Disney World and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis are vying for control of the park. Disney’s future developments risk being curtailed as a new bill targets its ability to self-manage the area around its theme parks.

Selene Brophy

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis fired another shot in his battle with the Walt Disney Co on Monday, saying the state’s Republican legislature would take action to undo the company’s efforts to circumvent government oversight. State on Walt Disney World.

DeSantis, a likely Republican presidential candidate who had “woke disneyA common theme said lawmakers would revoke a development deal Disney made with outgoing members of an oversight board.

“They thought they could create a type of development agreement that would make everything we did null and void,” DeSantis said. “It’s not going to fly.”

The ongoing fight between DeSantis, who has yet to announce a presidential candidacy, and one of Florida’s largest employers began in March 2022 when then-Chief Executive Officer Bob Chapek spoke out against a bill limiting discussion of sexuality and gender identity in Florida elementary school classrooms.

Republicans named the bill Parental Rights in Education Act, while opponents criticized it as the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

DeSantis said the new bill, announced Monday, would return control of the special district that houses Disney World to a state board of supervisors headed by governor appointees.

Among other things, it will give the council the power to decide how to develop land adjacent to Disney theme parks. DeSantis said the possibilities included a state park, other amusement parks or a state prison.

Disney shares were down about 0.2% at $99.68.

DeSantis and the Florida Legislature are working to eliminate the virtual autonomy the company has enjoyed at Disney World for more than 50 years, saying it constitutes an “unfair advantage.” Disney employs some 75,000 people in the state.

Florida lawmakers passed a bill in February giving DeSantis effective control over a council that oversees municipal services and development in a special district in central Florida that encompasses the Walt Disney World resort.

Bob Iger, current CEO of Disney called the move retaliatory, “anti-business” and “anti-Florida.” The company had no comment on DeSantis’ remarks on Monday.

Prior to the takeover by DeSantis appointees, Disney pushed through amendments to the special tax district agreement that limit board action for decades.

An attorney for the newly incorporated Central Florida Tourism Surveillance District last month described what he called the “shocking” revelation that the deal was done three weeks before DeSantis signed legislation granting the state authority over the district.

“I’ve never seen anything like it,” attorney Daniel Langley said March 29.

The pact cements a comprehensive 10-year plan, adopted on July 15, 2022, which serves as a blueprint to guide future development. This gives Disney the ability to add a fifth major theme park, two minor parks, 1 million square feet of retail space and some 14,000 hotel rooms.

It also ensures that future Boards of Directors will honor a commitment of $527 million in planned capital improvements to support Walt Disney World’s growth over the next decade.

“We are a government of laws, not a government of individual men or even a government of California-based ‘woke’ corporations,” DeSantis said.

Reporting by Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine in Los Angeles; Editing by Bill Berkrot. Copyright (2023) Thomson Reuters. Click for restrictions

This article was written by Dawn Chmielewski and Lisa Richwine of Reuters and has been legally licensed through Industry Dive Content market. Please direct all licensing questions to [email protected].

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