Governor Ron DeSantis and the Legislature revoked Walt Disney World’s single self-governing district known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, effective June of next year.
It came after the CEO of Disney spoke out against a new law that limits discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.
Retired Rollins College professor Richard Foglesong, author of “Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando,” discussed the situation with WMFE.
A powerful mouse
Foglesong said Walt Disney World has been huge for Orlando. This put the city on the map.
“It’s the economic engine of Central Florida. And a lot of people depend on Disney World for a living and I’m not just talking about people who work in the park. … And Reedy Creek Improvement District, that is, Disney’s private government that I call a Vatican with mouse ears, was essential for Disney to come here. When they came, they said they needed these powers or they wouldn’t come because they didn’t want to depend on a local or county government for public services. And they didn’t want to be regulated by a government they didn’t control. … They wanted their own kingdom in the form of a government.
Reedy Creek’s $1 billion bond debt
We don’t yet have an answer from the state government, especially Governor DeSantis, on how this bond debt will be repaid, by whom, and in what time frame. And there are consequences here, consequences for bond buyers, bond holders, consequences for Orange County. A reading of state law says that if powers are taken away from Reedy Creek, they default to the county government. There could be consequences for the governor if he’s embarrassed at the end because there’s details here and they have to go back and fix something or maybe not be able to execute actually this dissolution of the powers of the improvement district of Reedy Creek.
Foglesong thinks that in the end, little will change, because of the disastrous consequences of a “divorce”.
“I made reference in my book ‘Married to the Mouse’ to the powers of the Reedy Creek Improvement District as a prenuptial agreement. … [T]he Disney company wanted to preserve its power and so they kind of placed a ticking time bomb, you might say, in those powers, which makes it very difficult for the state to take those powers away from them. And I think we see that now with the imbroglio about what to do about bond debt.
“In the last chapter of my book, it’s called ‘Therapy.’ The book’s chapters correspond to the stages of a marriage, and I’ve been asked over the years: Why isn’t the last chapter ‘Divorce?’ And my answer – perhaps a little creepy at times – was Summer: Well, there are too many children. Too many people depend on Disney’s presence and these powers, and I still think that’s true.
“I don’t think there will be a divorce. I think we’re going to have some kind of therapy instead.
A decisive moment?
Foglesong wonders if this dispute could be a “watershed moment” in the country’s history of gay rights.
“I think looking at the model of the Disney company responding to Governor DeSantis, there may be other great companies that will follow in this state, in other states. Some large companies may publicly announce that they are not coming to Florida, that they do not want to invest here because of the position taken by the governor of the state legislature.
Copyright 2022 WMFE. To learn more, visit WMFE.