Walt Disney World Resort

Disney and Governor Ron DeSantis’ Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board Reach Settlement

Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District have reached a settlement ending several state lawsuits between the two. On Wednesday morning, the board for the former Reedy Creek Improvement District voted to accept a deal to end quite a bit of the litigation between Disney and Florida governing leaders.

This new agreement also addresses several development agreements that were made between Disney and the former Reedy Creek Improvement District board shortly before the state took over the district in February of 2023. These development agreements will now be rendered null and void. Disney has also said that it will be dropping a lawsuit seeking public records and will withdraw requests about those.

 Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, in a statement, “We are pleased to put an end to all litigation pending in state court in Florida between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the State.”

“We are eager to work with Disney. I’m certainly eager to work with Disney and all other businesses to make the country’s tourism destination famous for a second reason, which is good government. I’d like to thank publicly thank the district’s general counsel for their Herculean efforts on this front as well as our as well as our outside counsel,” said Central Florida Tourism Oversight District vice chair Charbel Barakat.

While the development agreements from 2023 are no longer in place, a comprehensive plan from 2020 will remain in effect. The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board has said that it will  “consult with Disney” while reviewing and amending this plan.

“We are glad that Disney has dropped its lawsuits against the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and conceded that their last-minute development agreements are null, void, and unenforceable,” Bryan Griffin, DeSantis’ communications director, said in a statement. “No corporation should be its own government. Moving forward, we stand ready to work with Disney and the District to help promote economic growth, family-friendly tourism, and accountable government in Central Florida.”

Another Lawsuit

While this settlement ends the state lawsuits, it does not end the lawsuit that is currently in a federal appeals court. This lawsuit was filed by Disney and alleges that Governor DeSantis and other Florida leaders used government to retaliate against the company after it came out against legislation the Governor supported. In this case, the legislation which limited classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation. A federal judge dismissed this lawsuit earlier this year and Disney appealed. At this point the federal lawsuit still stands. However, there is a clause in the settlement that says Disney will seek to pause the federal lawsuit pending Disney and the district successfully negotiating a new development agreement. It seems to also suggest that if the negotiations are successful, the federal case might be dropped.

A New Administrator

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board of directors also voted to hire a new district administrator. This comes after former administrator Glen Gilzean left the district when Governor DeSantis appointed him as the interim Orange County elections supervisor by Governor DeSantis. In his place, Governor DeSantis recommended Stephanie Kopelousos to replace Gilzean. The board opted to hire Kopelousos to the position, which earns $400,000 a year, instead of conducting a search for the role.

A New Board Member

On Tuesday, Governor DeSantis appointed Craig Mateer to the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. Mateer replaces Martin Garcia, who resigned as chairman of the board earlier this month. Under Florida state law, the governor now appoints members to the board of directors for the former Reedy Creek Improvement District.

A New Chapter

The settlement seems to indicate the beginning of a new chapter between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. After a year of acrimony, it appears that the two sides have decided to make peace and work together moving forward. The coming weeks and months will show where things will go next. Disney will also be unveiling new plans for its parks at D23: The Ultimate Disney Fan Club in August. The amount of investments happening in Florida could show how things are going in the district.

What do you think of Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District settling their disputes? Do you think it will be a good thing for both parties? Share your thoughts and opinions in the comments below!