After more than a year of political squabbles in the aftermath of the Disney Company’s standing in opposition to Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill making major changes to the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
“Today the corporate kingdom finally comes to an end,” DeSantis said at a late February 2023 bill signing ceremony in Lake Buena Vista. “There’s a new sheriff in town, and accountability will be the order of the day.”
But you may be wondering what exactly Reedy Creek is and what that means for Disney World. So, let’s tackle some frequently asked questions about Reedy Creek.
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Is Reedy Creek part of Disney?
No. It is a specially created governing body that has been known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
And that name is expected to change to Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in a legal process that may take as long as two years.
Who controls Reedy Creek?
The Reedy Creek Improvement District is governed by a five-person board of supervisors.
Previously, that board was hand-picked by the Walt Disney World Company. Now, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has hand-picked the board to supervise the district under its new name.
Further, Florida’s new law subjects the district to various layers of state oversight, though it’s unclear how much of that is additional oversight.
The state’s environmental agency, for example, would have always had oversight and Disney and the District would be subject to any state laws that affect other municipalities.
How big is Reedy Creek?
It’s basically a 39-square-mile tract (25,000 acres) in central Florida.
It encompasses the cities of Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake as well as the four Disney theme parks, two water parks, the sports complex, 179 miles of roadway and 67 miles of waterway in parts of Orange and Osceola counties.
Why was Reedy Creek created?
In the aftermath of creating Disneyland in California, Walt and Roy Disney learned some lessons.
Walt didn’t like that he couldn’t control the land just outside his theme parks. In his view, the “seedy” motels that popped up outside Disneyland ruined the vibe.
So, when he began buying up property in central Florida – without telling landowners who they were selling the property to or why – he wanted to devise a way to build a better mousetrap, in a manner of speaking.
Part of that process included the district – which was officially created in 1967 by a special act of the Florida legislature.
Essentially, it gave the Walt Disney Company its own operating body in place of local governments.
The idea began at a time when Walt was still dreaming that EPCOT could become an actual working model city with residents and governance that would be a cornerstone for building the civilization of the future.
While that part never came to fruition, the district that would have governed the city – or at least the city’s infrastructure needs – did.
Read Also: What Is the EPCOT Ball? What’s Inside?
What does Reedy Creek do for Disney?
It operates much like the local governments or as a city council or county commission would.
Read Also: Why Are People Mad at Disney? What You Need To Know 
What does Reedy Creek pay for?
Reedy Creek’s chief jurisdictions are infrastructure related. It provides fire protection and emergency medical services, potable water production, wastewater services, electric power generation and distribution as well as things like solid waste and recyclables collection.
It pays for these services by levying taxes against landowners and lessees within district boundaries.
In other words, Disney and its partners pay the taxes that pay for the municipal services within the district.
Like other government bodies, the district can issue bonds to pay for expensive infrastructure projects and then use the taxes it collects from Disney to pay those bonds off over time.
This is especially important because it was those billions of dollars worth of bonds that were the chief obstacle to DeSantis eliminating the district altogether as he originally threatened.
Had he done that, those bonds would have transferred to Florida residents, taxpayers and local government.
What exactly is Disney being held accountable for?
When DeSantis says Disney is being held accountable, he likely means that the company is being held accountable for expressing opposition to DeSantis.
Under pressure from Disney employees, the company voiced opposition to the law which forbids instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten through third grade and lessons deemed not age-appropriate. It is part of a series of Florida legislation designed to take offense against the left’s “woke agenda.”
In addition to speaking out publicly against the bill, then Disney CEO Bob Chapek said he called DeSantis “to express our disappointment and concern that if the legislation becomes law, it could be used to unfairly target gay, lesbian, non-binary and transgender kids and families.”
Florida republicans reacted with outrage. In particular that Disney – the state’s largest employer – would try to use its influence to affect public policy.
DeSantis indicated he would dissolve the special district. However, he backtracked to plan B when he discovered that would likely mean passing billions of dollars of Reedy Creek bond debt to Florida taxpayers.
After reassessing the situation, DeSantis decided if he couldn’t dissolve the district, he could put his own people in charge of it.
So what is going to happen with Reedy Creek?
That’s the big question, isn’t it?
In the short term, we know the district will be governed by five new board members hand-picked by DeSantis. These are some of his political affiliates, supporters and donors.
We know the name will change through the legal process will take time.
What do we know beyond that? Not a lot.
How much will the board try to use its power over infrastructure to influence Disney? It’s hard to say. But DeSantis – in his post-signing remarks – indicated that it’s a new day for Disney.
It’s possible, I suppose, the board could withhold approval or funding for certain projects in order to influence Disney to operate within the scope of more conservative values.
What’s that mean? Maybe the district will try to force Disney from halting the Splash Mountain change or remove any LBGTQ+ references from its movies.
Still, I don’t think that level of influence is very likely, but the DeSantis remarks certainly put that on the table.
This is, after all, a political game. The district is a political entity. Holding up approval of a new hotel or road project that could cost Florida residents jobs or money will also cost political capital.
In addition, DeSantis won’t be governor forever. In fact, he may not be governor in two years if the rumors of his political ambitions are true.
Why hasn’t Disney fought back?
There are a few options that come to mind here.
First? Maybe they can’t. Maybe DeSantis and his team positioned the chessboard in such a way that Disney is in checkmate.
Second? Maybe Disney doesn’t mind so much.
Disney’s original opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” law was driven by employee outrage that the company didn’t do more to oppose the bill.
Disney is a major corporation whose chief purpose is to make money for its stockholders. It’s possible that Disney’s corporate structure aligns more with DeSantis’ policies than a lot of its rank-and-file employees and talent.
Third? It’s the Aaron Burr plan. Disney is not lying still, it is lying in wait. Waiting for the political winds to shift, waiting on a time when DeSantis and his political ambitions are out of the way – or at least more vulnerable.
And finally, maybe Disney believes it can live with the changes. Some experts have said the Florida government’s actions will mostly be cosmetic.
Did DeSantis actually win?
None of us have a crystal ball. Right now? This looks like a clear and decisive win for DeSantis.
What are the ramifications of this move? Importantly, what does it mean for Disney?
What does it mean for Florida or for our future vacations? A lot of experts are telling you what they think.
I think the best answer is best summed up from an iconic line in one of my favorite movies, “Charlie Wilson’s War”. We’ll see.
What do you think about the Reedy Creek board changes? Let us know in the comments.