Disney Blocks DeSantis Takeover of Reedy Creek With Stealth, Last-Minute Rule Changes

The new board appointed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis discovered the problem only after taking over

Walt Disney World Resort
Walt Disney World Resort (Matt Stroshane / Walt Disney World Resort via Getty Images)

Just before Florida Republicans, at the behest of Governor Ron DeSantis, passed a law in February that formally stripped Disney of control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the company got some payback. While the state was plotting the end of Disney’s power in central Florida, Disney quietly pushed through several very restrictive rule changes in Reedy Creek that effectively renders the region’s new bosses powerless.

The new rules, among other things, prevents the region’s new Board from using Disney characters or concepts without express permission from Disney, and even forbids them from use of the name Disney. The rules give Disney broad power sue for any violation, and as an added dig, it states the rules remain in effect in perpetuity; if that clause is found to violate laws against perpetuity, it states the new rules instead remain in effect until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England.”

Reedy Creek is the former name for the central Florida region where Walt Disney World is located and where, until 2022, Disney held almost total authority. Created in 1967, Disney enjoyed significant tax and regulation exemptions in the district and was essentially allowed to act as the de facto local government on Disney World grounds. This included establishment of its own fire department and board of supervisors to oversee the region, as well as oversight of land and environmental regulations.

That changed when Disney — after having been shamed into it by its own employees — got into conflict with DeSantis over an law, popularly known as “don’t say gay,” that established official discrimination against the LGBTQ community in Florida. In retaliation for opposing the law, in April 2022 DeSantis and the state’s Republican Party punished Disney by revoking the special tax status. On Feb. 8, 2023, the state legislature passed a law authorizing DeSantis to appoint a new board to govern the region, which has been renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. DeSantis signed that bill into law on Feb. 27.

The new board discovered they’d been outmaneuvered when they took control last month. Board representatives said at a public meeting on Wednesday that they are looking into ways to undo these rules. Disney, in a statement provided to media, said, “All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law.”