Disney World

Disney Capitulates to DeSantis, Drops Lawsuits and Agrees to Invest $17 Billion in Disney World

(The Epoch Times)—Disney asked a federal appellate court on June 13 to dismiss its lawsuit against Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis. A day earlier, the governor’s appointees reached a deal with the company on how Walt Disney World would be developed over the next two decades, ending the remaining conflict between the two parties.

The development agreement was approved Wednesday night by the Republican governor’s appointees to the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), which oversees Disney World. According to a March settlement, the future of the federal lawsuit was contingent on the parties reaching a development deal.

As part of the 15-year deal, Disney agreed to invest $17 billion in Disney World over the next two decades, and the district committed to improving the infrastructure on the theme park resort’s property. Disney’s municipal services, including firefighting, planning, and mosquito control, among other things, were controlled by Disney supporters prior to last year’s takeover by Mr. DeSantis’s appointees.

“This new development agreement paves the way for us to invest billions of dollars in Walt Disney World Resort, supporting the growth of this global destination, fueling the Florida economy, and allowing us to deliver even more memorable and extraordinary experiences for our guests,” said Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort.

The deal allows Disney to build a fifth major theme park and two more smaller parks, such as water parks, if it chooses. It also received approval to increase the number of hotel rooms on its property from nearly 40,000 to more than 53,000 and can add over 20 percent more retail and restaurant space. Disney will retain control of building heights so it can maintain an immersive environment.

In exchange, Disney agreed to donate up to 100 acres of Disney World’s 24,000 acres for infrastructure projects, which will be under the district’s control. At least half of the company’s construction projects must be awarded to Florida-based companies. Disney also agreed to invest at least $10 million in affordable housing for central Florida.

Mr. DeSantis’s spokesman said the governor is pleased an agreement has been reached.

“This agreement is a big win for central Florida and will lead to numerous jobs and improved guest experiences,” said Bryan Griffin, communications director for the governor’s office.

In March, both sides agreed to stop litigating each other in state court and work together to negotiate a new development deal and comprehensive plan by 2025.

The settlement ends the legal battle that began in February 2023 when Mr. DeSantis signed into law HB 9B. The bill stripped Disney of its self-governance board of the then-Reedy Creek Improvement District and replaced it with his appointed board of the CFTOD.

HB 9B was enacted after Disney spoke out against the Parental Rights Education law, vowing to do everything possible to overturn it.

In turn, Disney filed several lawsuits, including one that claimed that Mr. DeSantis and his appointees had replaced Reedy Creek “in retaliation for its protected speech” against the Parental Rights Education bill. That case was dismissed by U.S. District Judge Allen Winsor on Jan. 31 after he concluded that the case lacked standing and merit, as reported earlier this year by The Epoch Times. Disney later appealed the judge’s decision.

Before control of the district shifted early last year, Disney supporters on its board signed agreements with the company, handing over design and construction control at Disney to the company.

The new DeSantis appointees claimed the “eleventh-hour deals” blocked their powers, and the district sued the company in an Orlando state court, seeking to have the contracts voided. Disney countersued, asking the state court to declare the agreements valid and enforceable.

Those state court lawsuits were dismissed as part of the March settlement.

T.J. Muscaro and The Associated Press contributed to this story.