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Chairman of DeSantis’ Disney Board Accuses Reedy Creek of “Corporate Cronyism”, Calls Lawsuit “Bogus”

Walt Disney with a map of Disney World
Credit: Disney

When Walt Disney was trying to make his Walt Disney World dreams into a reality, he needed to buy a lot of land in Florida. He thought that if landowners knew he was the one purchasing the land, then they would jack up their prices. He also didn’t want other businesses to find out what he was doing and build up the area, as they had in Anaheim, where Disneyland was. So, he created a company called Reedy Creek, so his name would not be associated with the purchase of the land.

Reedy Creek Improvement District

Credit: Reedy Creek

Walt passed away in 1966, but his brother Roy continued the hard work to make Walt’s dream come true. In 1967, the Florida government passed a law allowing Reedy Creek to become The Reedy Creek Improvement District. As a special district, Disney no longer had to go to the state for things like zoning permits. That made the construction of Walt Disney World much easier. As a special district, Disney was also financially responsible for things like water, power, fire, electricity, and road construction and maintenance.

Reedy Creek Improvement District

Credit: RDIC

For more than 50 years, the relationship between the state of Florida and the Reedy Creek Improvement District was relatively good. Disney paid its taxes to the state, brought in millions of tourists, and, along with that, millions of dollars. Disney helped Florida become the tourism capital of the United States.

All that changed in 2022.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against a bill that Florida Governor Ron DeSantis championed, and everything went downhill. DeSantis and the Republican-led state legislature stripped Disney of its right to self-govern. The Reedy Creek Improvement District became the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. The Reedy Creek board was then replaced with one hand-picked by the governor.

Ron DeSantis

Credit: Gage Skidmore, Flickr

The CFTOD has been in charge since February 2023, and their relationship with Disney has been acrimonious. Disney is currently suing the CFTOD board for breach of contract, violation of the Florida State Constitution, and more. The board, in turn, has said that Disney had “special privileges” that it simply took away because they weren’t fair to other businesses in the state.

DeSantis more popular in Florida than Disney

Credit: Flickr, Gage Skidmore

The CFTOD recently held a board meeting, and chairman Martin Garcia, in a prepared statement, blasted Disney, Reedy Creek, and the federal lawsuit against them. He said that Reedy Creek was nothing more than “corporate cronyism” and Disney “exploited” the citizens of Florida.

It’s worth quickly reminding the public how we arrived at this point. Disney exploited the generosity of the people of Florida over the years through the 1967 Reedy Creek Improvement Act. What worked in the early years to spark economic development in Central Florida, later proved to be an urban planning quagmire with horrific governance practices. A light was finally shined on this problem, and Disney got caught. Disney used the 1967 Act to establish footing in Central Florida to minimize, if not eliminate, all hurdles in its campaign to mold the district to serve the best interests of Disney at the expense of the public good. Along the way, it seized control of local government through a variety of unsavory means. Politely, the Reedy Creek Improvement District could have been described as a “public-private partnership.” In reality, in terms of scope and scale, it became one of the greatest examples of corporate cronyism in modern American history.”

Disney World firefighter Contracts

Credit: Reedy Creek

Disney is not only suing the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District but also Governor DeSantis. Disney is accusing DeSantis of violating its First Amendment Rights when it punished them for speaking out against a bill. The original lawsuit also had several contract disputes. Disney recently amended the lawsuit to drop the contract disputes and focus solely on its First Amendment claims.

Garcia used Disney’s amendment to the lawsuit against them, calling the lawsuit “bogus”, “repugnant”, and a “publicity stunt.”

It is a noteworthy event when lawyers voluntarily dismiss causes of actions against defendants. In doing so, Disney has all but admitted it knew that the federal charges against this board were bogus, and, moreover, that the filing of them constituted a publicity stunt—not to mention a repugnant one that took place at the expense of both the integrity of the legal system and of the economic interests of the taxpayers in this district. This board is also fully confident that, when all is said and done, the eleventh-hour contracts that Disney entered into with the old Reedy Creek board will be recognized as void and meet a similar fate as Disney’s federal court dismissal.

boycott disney performative critics

Credit: Disney

Garcia praised the new board, saying that it was “tremendously proud” of the work that it has done and said that it will “continue our work on behalf of residents, employees, tourists, and all of our other constituents.” Overall, Florida residents have seemed split on their views of the CFTOD, with the division mainly coming along party lines. However, a large number of Republicans have conceded that DeSantis may have overstepped in his attacks on Disney.

One group that had been on the CFTOD’s side was Reedy Creek first responders. Firefighters and paramedics had been unable to come to contractual agreements with the Reedy Creek board for years. That changed when the CFTOD took over, and new contracts were finally signed in July 2023. However, that relationship has now soured.

Journey of Water EPCOT

Credit: Disney

In August, the CFTOD revoked perks that had always come with the jobs in the district — including free entry into the Disney parks and discounts on hotel stays. They called those employee benefits “a scheme”. Reedy Creek firefighters have been fighting back, saying they worked hard to earn those benefits. The benefits were available to retirees and had generational benefits for their families.

The benefits had been considered no different from a professor’s child getting free tuition to the school the parent teaches at. The firefighters have voiced their concern that the revocation of benefits is just the beginning of the power the board will try to have over them.

About Krysten Swensen

A born and bred New England girl living the Disney life in Southern California. I love to read, to watch The Golden Girls, and love everything to do with Disney and Universal. I also love to share daily doses of Disney on my Disney Instagram @BrazzleDazzleDisney!

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