Disney set to invest up to $17 billion in Florida parks now that fight against DeSantis appointees is over

ORLANDO, Florida. (AP) – Months after Disney and Gov. Ron DeSantis appointees agreed to end long legal proceedings In this fight, both sides are close to approving a deal that could see the company invest as much as $17 billion in its Florida resort and open the door to a fifth major theme park in Walt Disney World.

The five DeSantis-appointed supervisors who oversee the Disney World district voted Wednesday to give initial approval to a new development agreement that the two sides agreed to negotiate after a March settlement ended their lawsuits. ‘one against the other.

A second vote was needed for final approval, and it was scheduled for next week.

“We are heading into a brand new day and I am excited about the direction it will take,” said Charbel Barakat, vice president of the district’s board of trustees. “I only wish we could have gotten here sooner.”

Woody Rodriguez, chief external affairs officer for Disney Parks, told board members the deal will allow the company to make substantial investments in Disney World.

The agreement between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism and Oversight District will last for the next 15 years. The district provides municipal services such as firefighting, planning and mosquito control, among others. It was controlled by Disney supporters for most of its five decades until it was taken over by DeSantis appointees last year.

Under the terms of the agreement, over the next ten to twenty years, Disney would be allowed to build a fifth major theme park at Disney World and two other minor parks, such as water parks. The company could increase the number of hotel rooms on its property from nearly 40,000 rooms to more than 53,000 rooms and increase retail and restaurant square footage by more than 20 percent. Disney would retain control over building height due to its need to maintain an immersive environment.

In exchange, Disney would be required to donate up to 100 acres (40 hectares) of Disney World’s 24,000 acres (9,700 hectares) for the construction of infrastructure projects controlled by the District. The company is also expected to award at least half of its construction projects to Florida-based companies and dedicate at least $10 million to affordable housing in Central Florida.

The March settlement ended nearly two years of litigation sparked by DeSantis’ takeover of the district from Disney supporters following the company’s opposition to a Florida law dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.” .

The 2022 law bans classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades and was championed by the Republican governor, who used Disney as a punching bag in his speeches until ‘he suspended his presidential campaign This year.

As punishment for Disney’s opposition to the controversial law, DeSantis took back the governing district through legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and appointed a new oversight board. Disney sued DeSantis and his appointees, claiming the company’s free speech rights were violated for speaking out against the legislation. A federal judge rejected this lawsuit in January, but Disney appealed. As part of the March settlement, Disney agreed to stay the appeal of the federal lawsuit.

Before control of the district shifted from Disney allies to DeSantis appointees early last year, Disney supporters on his board signed agreements with Disney transferring design control and the construction of Disney World at the company. The new DeSantis nominees claimed that “last minute deals” had neutralized their powers and the district sued the company in state court in Orlando to void the contracts.

Disney filed counterclaims, including asking the state court to declare the agreements valid and enforceable. Those state court suits were dismissed as part of the March settlement.


Follow Mike Schneider on X, formerly known as Twitter: @MikeSchneiderAP.

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