Universal Orlando

Disney Feud With Florida Governor DeSantis Given More Ammunition With New Universal Orlando Special District Creation?

The ongoing feud between The Walt Disney Company and Governor Ron DeSantis might have just been given more ammunition. This week the Orange County (Fla.) Board of County Commissioners voted unanimously to create the Shingle Creek CDD Community Development District (Shingle Creek CDD). This is a special tax district that was proposed by Universal Orlando Resort. It includes 719 acres that includes Universal’s new Epic Universe theme park that’s under construction. This new district also has 13 acres for a new SunRail train station.

About the New Special District

According to its website, the Shingle Creek CDD was created to be “an alternative method of planning, acquiring, operating and maintaining community-wide improvements in planned communities.” It also says that “Community Development Districts represent a major advancement in Florida’s effort to manage its growth effectively and efficiently. This allows a developer to establish higher construction standards, meanwhile providing a long-term solution to the operation and maintenance of the community’s facilities.”

The new special district is going to reportedly use $174 million in bond proceeds to fund public infrastructure. This will include $129 million for the SunRail Station on the Sunshine Corridor to connect Orlando International Airport with the Orlando Convention Center, which happens to be near the new Epic Universe park that is being built and expected to be completed in 2025. The funding also includes $40 million for odor control improvements at South Water Reclamation Facility. There is also $8 million going to improvements for Epic Boulevard which leads to Epic Universe. County commissioners will still need to authorize these projects before construction can happen.

The district will be funded by taxes and fees that will be assessed on landowners in the district. At this time, the only landowners currently within the Shingle Creek CDD are Universal Orlando and the Rida Development Corp., owners of the Hilton Orlando.

“Today marks a step forward and we thank the mayor and county commissioners for approving our petition to establish a community development district that can help realize the vision for expanded SunRail connectivity from the airport to the convention center,” said John Sprouls, chief administrative officer of Universal Destinations & Experiences, in a statement. “With just a single stop and a new convention center station, we can get 125,000-plus residents to their jobs and millions of visitors to our area’s world-class attractions.”

The Shingle Creek CDD Board of Directors

The new board of directors for the Shingle Creek CDD is completely made up of employees of Universal. The board is comprised of Bradley Goeb, Bryan Julian, Erica Klostermeier, John Hanebrink and Teresa Crews. This is very similar to the way that the former Reedy Creek Improvement District was governed.

Just like the former Reedy Creek Improvement District and now Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, the new board for the Shingle Creek Transit & Utility Community Development District board of directors will meet once a month. In this case, the board will meet on the first Monday of the month at 11:30 AM.

Disney versus DeSantis

Fire for the Feud?

The creation of this new district could potentially give Disney more ammunition for its case against Governor Ron DeSantis and other Florida leaders. Disney has accused Governor DeSantis and others of using the government to retaliate against the company for speaking out thereby violating its First Amendment rights. This came after former Disney CEO Bob Chapek spoke out against the Parental Rights in Education law, HB 1557, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. This led to Governor DeSantis speaking out against what he called “woke” Disney and then leading efforts to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Eventually he was successful at this and replaced the former district with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. The new district has a board that is made up of members hand-picked by the Governor. It has spent a bulk of the year fighting with Disney for its existence, while also moving forward to create its own impact on the district. Two main lawsuits have grown out of this feud, one at the Federal level and the other State. The determination of these lawsuits will most likely decide the future for the district.

Throughout the feud, Governor DeSantis’ has had a couple arguments for his actions against Disney. He originally pushed the narrative that there was a “new sheriff in town” and Disney shouldn’t be pushing its “woke” agenda in Florida. As time has gone, and presumably more lawyers got involved, the tune has changed to an argument about self-government. Governor DeSantis now argues that the actions taken to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District and replace it with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District was all about stripping Disney of its ability to self-govern in the district. He argued that Disney shouldn’t be any different than any other organization in the state. However, with the creation of the new Shingle Creek Transit & Utility Community Development District, this argument seems to not apply anymore.

The creation of the Shingle Creek CDD for Universal Orlando with a board that is made up entirely of Universal employees will most likely give Disney ammunition in its fight against the Governor. While there are around 1,800 special districts in Florida, the Governor’s argument that Reedy Creek was different isn’t accurate now. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District is also unique in that it is the only district where the Governor has decided to install his own board of directors rather than let the district board represent the landowners from inside the district.

It should be noted that Daps Magic is not a law firm and has no lawyers as a part of its team. However, applying common sense to the situation seems to appear that there is a double standard in this ongoing feud between Disney and Governor DeSantis. The ultimate decision on if this is true will come from a judge (or more than likely more than one after appeals and secondary cases). Daps Magic will continue to follow this feud and provide updates as they become available. What do you think about the creation of this new district for Universal Orlando? Is it a double standard? Is it a completely different thing? Share your thoughts, insights, and opinions in the comments below!


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