Disney set to invest $17B in Florida parks following approval of development agreement

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(NEW YORK) — Disney and appointees of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have officially approved an agreement that could result in the company investing $17 billion into its Florida properties, as well as a potential fifth major theme park.

The news comes two months after the two parties agreed to end their drawn-out legal battle, which centered on oversight of the Disney World district that provides municipal services like fire suppression, emergency medical services, law enforcement services, environmental protection and public utilities.

The DeSantis-appointed supervisors of the Central Florida Tourism and Oversight District — formerly the Reedy Creek Improvement District — are one step closer to cementing a final agreement with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts U.S., after the appointees unanimously voted Wednesday to accept proposed revisions and approve the new development agreement. Disney is the parent company of ABC News and Good Morning America.

Both sides had agreed to negotiate this new agreement after a March settlement, which ended their previous lawsuits against each other.

Final action for the development agreement will take place with Walt Disney Parks and Resorts in another public board meeting on June 12.

During a livestream of the first of the board’s two public hearings on the agreement on Wednesday, Katherine Luetzow, manager of planning and engineering for the district, highlighted details of the 15-year development agreement, which covers nearly 17,000 acres of land within the district that is currently owned by Walt Disney Parks and Resorts and its subsidiaries.

“Disney is currently planning up to $17 billion of capital investments within the district in the next 10 to 20 years, with a commitment of $8 billion in the next 10 years,” she said. “There are provisions for by local initiatives, including a minimum of 50% of goods and services related to the design, development and construction, to be retained with Florida businesses. There is $10 million going to attainable housing projects, and there are provisions for land, as well as wetland and threatening endangered species mitigation credits being donated to the district.”

The members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board welcomed public comment from two small business owners that operate at Disney Springs, who both urged the board to approve the new deal.

Luetzow said their staff reviewed this agreement and recommended the board review and approve this development agreement.

The members of the Central Florida Tourism and Oversight District board welcomed public comment from two small-business owners who operate multiple food establishments at Disney Springs. Both urged the board to approve the investment from Disney, which they said would benefit thousands of restaurant workers, their families and anyone who lives and works in this district.

Woody Rodriguez, director of external affairs for Disney Parks, spoke at the meeting and thanked the board for considering the agreement.

“I especially thank your district administrator who definitely hit the ground running,” Rodriguez said. “The development agreement will enable us to continue to invest significantly in the district to benefit all parties. We hope that the board votes to approve it at your next public hearing. Thank you.”

As ABC News reported previously, DeSantis has been at odds with Disney since the company publicly criticized a DeSantis-backed controversial Florida law that restricts content concerning sexual orientation and gender identity in grades kindergarten through third grade. The Parental Rights in Education Law was dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” law, with opponents arguing it painted LGBTQ topics as taboo or inappropriate.

DeSantis subsequently took control of Disney’s special tax district, which allows the theme park to govern itself, and the Florida Legislature voted to dissolve the former governing board of the district, creating the DeSantis-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in its place.

Disney sued DeSantis and various Florida officials in April 2023 over the decision, alleging the move was “patently retaliatory, patently anti-business, and patently unconstitutional.” The lawsuit took aim at the state oversight board’s decision to void “publicly noticed and duly agreed development contracts which had laid the foundation for billions of Disney’s investment dollars and thousands of jobs,” according to the legal filing.

The company called the move “a targeted campaign of government retaliation — orchestrated at every step by Gov. DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech” and said it “threatens Disney’s business operations, jeopardizes its economic future in the region, and violates its constitutional rights.”

A federal judge in Florida dismissed the lawsuit in January this year, stating at the time that Disney had not shown standing to sue the governor. Disney subsequently appealed the ruling.

In March, Disney agreed to end litigation in light of the proposed development agreements, which were approved on Wednesday, with Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle stating at the time, “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.”

Disney is the parent company of ABC News and “Good Morning America.”

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