Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Votes to Give Itself “Superior Authority” Over Disney Deal

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On Wednesday the board for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District met and voted to give itself “superior authority” over Disney to make decisions on planning and development in Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake. This comes following a press conference earlier this week where Governor DeSantis laid out his plans for both the board and the legislature to take control of the district from Disney. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board voted unanimously on Resolution 639 with April 26 set as the date for the second reading and public hearing on the resolution.

The vote on this resolution came after a presentation by the district’s lawyers who made the case that Disney’s February 8 2023 developer agreements and restrictive covenants were “null and void.” Their reasoning was that there was a violation of the Florida Sunshine Law and that Disney “failed to mail notice to the other property owners in the district.” The lawyers, David H. Thompson from Cooper & Kirk, said that this failure  “dooms their entire effort.” The vote was made on the resolution after the presentation with no discussion.

The lawyers also argued that the agreements could be entered into “only if the district has put in place to adopt such an agreement, Reedy Creek Improvement District neglected to do so.” Basically, the lawyers were arguing that there was no procedure to make this agreement set in place so the agreement couldn’t be made in the first place.

“Disney engaged in a caper worthy of Scrooge McDuck to try to evade Florida law. Its efforts are illegal, and they will not stand,” said David Thompson, the managing partner of Cooper & Kirk, a Washington, D.C. law firm hired by the board as part of a legal team to challenge Disney.

During the board meeting, Chairman Martin Garcia also shared other changes he would like to see happen within what was formerly the Reedy Creek Improvement District. He did note that the creation of the district did initially make sense in his opening remarks. “The Reedy Creek Improvement Act seemed like a decent deal. In exchange for special privileges, Disney would construct its kingdom to draw tourists, spark industry, and generate jobs and revenue,” Garcia said. “But nobody — perhaps other than Disney itself — believed that the act would live in perpetuity.” He wrapped up his opening remarks by saying, “regardless of your politics, nobody should favor outdated legislation that elevates a corporation above the public good.”

He made several proposals for the district including monetizing the land assets that are owned by the district. “I want everybody to understand that we’re going to have to raise revenues,” said Martin Garcia. This included bringing more affordable housing to the district, raising property tax rates on Disney, and potentially adding toll roads. These are ideas that were also broached by Governor Ron DeSantis. Garcia also said the board would create voting rights and also “traffic solutions” for the potential inhabitants of the affordable housing. It was said that this would also reduce the carbon footprint as cast members would not have to drive as far to work. Garcia concluded, “… In seeking to improve the functioning of the district, nothing is off the table for us.”

The board also heard other reports on the district. One was on the financial position of the district, which was said to be good. Another opened the discussion on who and how inspections should be done within the district. The focus, in this case, was on swimming pools. The board also voted to eliminate Planning and Zoning Board members and replace them with themselves. Finally, the board also announced that it had made progress on negotiations with the Reedy Creek firefighters union. After this, the public portion of the meeting was adjourned so the board could continue labor talks in a closed session.

The actions taken today will undoubtably not end the controversy between Disney and Florida that started last year when then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek came out against Florida’s Parental Rights in Education bill, otherwise known as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Governor DeSantis and the Florida State Legislature then voted to revoke the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Earlier this year, they replaced it with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and installed a board that was hand-picked by the Governor.

While the Governor and the state legislature were working on replacing the Reedy Creek Improvement District, Disney continued to work with the district to create a plan or the future. This agreement was signed before Reedy Creek was replaced. It was discovered later when the new board met and immediately this caused major conflicts as the agenda of Governor DeSantis and his board were halted by the development agreement that Disney had made with the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Since then, DeSantis and the board have begun looking at ways to dismantle the agreement and render it “null and void,” which the governor declared during the press conference earlier this week. The Florida state legislature is also putting forth an amendment to revoke the development deal.

“They (Disney) are not superior to the laws that are enacted by the state of Florida,” DeSantis said during the news conference on Monday. “They thought they could create a development agreement that would render everything we did null and void. That’s not going to work, that’s not going to fly.”

“I’ve worked with both leaders of the House and Senate, and there is a bill that will be put out in the Florida legislature that will make sure that the agreements by Disney are revoked,” DeSantis said while at the Reedy Creek Administration Building.  “And the people’s will is established and is upheld. 

“At the end of the day, we made the decision as a state and as people of our elections, that we will not have one corporation serving as its own government. That is not good government, and that is not something we will entertain in Florida.”

There will most-certainly be more moves made by DeSantis, the legislature, and the board against Disney in the coming weeks and months. It would also be unsurprising if lawsuits begin to be filed to determine the validity of the initial development agreement, the new board’s vote determine it to be “null and void,” and also the new legislation revoking the agreement. At this point, it does not appear that any officials in the state of Florida have taken the agreement to court and instead are trying to counter it through their own devices.

On the Disney side of things, Disney contends that it has done everything according to the laws of Florida released a statement saying, “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.”

Bob Iger recently addressed the controversy in a Q&A portion of Disney’s annual shareholder meeting. Iger responded by sharing about how Disney has invested in the state of Florida, has worked to be a good citizen, and has plans to continue doing so. He wrapped it up by saying, “our point on this is any action is that towards those efforts, simply to retaliate for a position the company took sounds not just anti-business but it sounds anti-Florida, and I’ll just leave it at that.”  

Daps Magic has been continuing to keep a close eye on this situation as it develops. The coverage for it can be found here. An analysis of where things stand currently can be found here. What do you think of this whole Florida feud with Disney? How do you think it will play out? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below.

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