Disney to invest $17B in Florida parks after resolving conflict with DeSantis appointees

Disney and Gov. Ron DeSantis’ representatives have come to an agreement that could see the company invest up to $17 billion into its Florida resort, including the potential for a fifth major theme park at Walt Disney World. The agreement comes months after a lengthy legal dispute between the two parties was resolved. Pending approval, the deal will pave the way for significant investment in the resort, providing a boost to the local economy and potentially increasing employment opportunities.

On Wednesday, the five supervisors appointed by DeSantis who are responsible for overseeing the Disney World district will be voting on a fresh development agreement. This agreement has been negotiated by both parties after a settlement in March had put an end to their state court lawsuits against each other.

Disney has reached an agreement with the Central Florida Tourism and Oversight District that will last for the next 15 years. The district is responsible for providing various municipal services that include firefighting, planning, and mosquito control. Previously, the district was under the control of Disney supporters for almost 50 years until it was taken over by the DeSantis appointees in the past year.

Disney has been given the green light to construct a fifth major theme park at Disney World, along with two additional minor parks, which could include water parks, as part of the deal. Over the next ten to twenty years, the company could increase its hotel rooms from nearly 40,000 to over 53,000 and boost its retail and restaurant space by more than 20%. Disney will maintain control over building heights to preserve the immersive environment it is known for.

Disney World would have to give up to 100 acres of its land for infrastructure projects controlled by the district in exchange. This would be part of a deal that requires the company to award at least half of its construction projects to Florida-based companies and spend at least $10 million on affordable housing for central Florida. These terms would be mandatory for Disney to comply with.

After nearly two years of legal battles, the conflict between DeSantis and Disney supporters over the district takeover finally came to a close in March. The dispute stemmed from Disney’s opposition to a controversial Florida law that was dubbed “Don’t Say Gay.”

In 2022, a law was passed that prohibits the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in early grade classroom lessons. The law was supported by the Republican governor, who frequently criticized Disney in his speeches, until he suspended his presidential campaign earlier this year.

In response to Disney’s stance against a divisive law, DeSantis retaliated by passing legislation that gave him control over the governing district and appointing a new board of supervisors. Disney, in turn, filed a lawsuit against DeSantis and his appointees for violating their right to free speech. While a federal judge dismissed the case in January, Disney appealed the decision. As part of the settlement reached in March, Disney agreed to suspend their appeal of the federal lawsuit.

When the district was under the control of Disney allies, agreements were signed that gave Disney control over design and construction at Disney World. However, when DeSantis appointees took over, they felt that these agreements limited their powers and filed a lawsuit in state court in Orlando to have the contracts invalidated. The new appointees referred to these agreements as “eleventh-hour deals” that left them powerless.

As part of the March settlement, Disney had filed counterclaims, requesting the state court to affirm the validity and enforceability of the agreements. The state court lawsuits were ultimately dismissed.

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MBS Staff
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