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Everyone knows that The Walt Disney Co. is a cultural and corporate force to be reckoned with, but did you know that for over 55 years, the House of Mouse essentially governed the 39 square miles centered on Walt Disney World?
Known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, this special jurisdiction was set up in 1967 to bypass bureaucratic red tape in Florida's Orange and Osceola counties so that Disney could build and manage its network of theme parks and related properties more easily. Within its special taxing district, The Walt Disney Co. had the power to seize land through eminent domain, issue bonds, make infrastructure decisions, and provide essential services.
This special status is changing, though, as the Florida legislature scales back Disney’s control over the area. Although some lawmakers have questioned Disney's special privileges in Florida for years, the recent actions were prompted by Disney’s public opposition to the Parental Rights in Education legislation, which Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law in March 2022. Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics, the legislation prohibits teaching young elementary school children about gender identity and sexual orientation and places limits on classroom instruction on those topics in older grades.
Beginning last year, GOP lawmakers sought to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Now, it seems that Reedy Creek won’t be dissolved (largely to avoid burdening taxpayers with the district's nearly $1 billion of bonded debt), but things are definitely changing. It will be getting a new name – the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District – and the five-person board will no longer be chosen from among the district's landowners (which are mainly Disney and some residents with ties to the company). The board will now be chosen by Gov. DeSantis with the approval of the state Senate – and board members will not be allowed to have worked for a company linked to a theme park in the last three years.
Trouble in the Magic Kingdom:
- Last year, as efforts to dissolve Reedy Creek ramped up, Republican Rep. Randy Fine tweeted, “Disney is a guest in Florida. Today we remind them.”
- The creation of Reedy Creek even gave Disney the right to build an airport and a nuclear power plant in the district – though the need never arose.
- Walt Disney died in 1966, five years before Walt Disney World opened in 1971.
- The Reedy Creek Improvement District currently includes four theme parks, two water parks, over 40,000 hotel rooms, hundreds of retail stores and restaurants, 175 miles (282 km) of roads, the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, and much more.
- Disney is Florida's largest private employer, providing around 80,000 jobs.