Disney and DeSantis End Florida Feud, Making Way for $17 Billion Disney World Development

At long last, the feud between Florida governor Ron DeSantis and Disney has come to an end. The two parties reached an agreement on Wednesday that clears the way for $17 billion in planned development at Walt Disney World, an expansion that will create an estimated 13,000 jobs, according to the company.

This new agreement lasts for the next 15 years and came about after the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District agreed to a long-term plan for expanding Disney World. The organization was under Disney control for 55 years until DeSantis took it over in 2022, a move that led to several lawsuits. Under this new agreement, Disney will be able to develop its resort without interference by Florida politicians.

More specifically, this new deal gives the resort the ability to build a fifth theme park, add three small parks, expand its retail and office space and build 14,000 hotel rooms. This agreement does come with some caveats. Disney is obligated to spend at least $8 billion, and the company must also expand an affordable housing initiative and carry out a “buy local initiative.” The latter initiative requires that at least 50 percent of its total spending when it comes to this expansion go to Florida businesses.

The expansion plan was unanimously approved by all five members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board. Following that approval, Disney said it will halt its litigation against DeSantis and the district.

In a statement acquired by the New York Times, Jeff Vahle, president of Disney World, said the agreement will support “the growth of this global destination, fueling the Florida economy.”

DeSantis’ war against Disney started in 2022 when Florida legislature passed a law to disband the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the former name of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Many lawmakers have argued that the move against Reedy Creek was in retaliation to Disney’s opposition to DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education Act, which is more commonly known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. In 2023, Florida state legislature voted to replace the RCID board’s five Disney-selected members with five members appointed by DeSantis as well as remove parts of the district’s authority. That led to Disney filing a lawsuit against DeSantis, claiming the politician violated the company’s First Amendment rights (A judge ultimately ruled in favor of DeSantis).

Shortly after the “Don’t Say Gay” bill was largely overturned — allowing
gender identity and sexual orientation to be discussed in Florida classrooms — DeSantis replaced a CFTOD member who was critical of Disney. That led to DeSantis and Disney reaching a settlement in March.

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