Although the city never came to be, Walt Disney World was an economic powerhouse with its four theme parks, two dozen hotels and unprecedented government powers. It could also issue bonds, and build its own nuclear reactor if necessary.
Now, five decades later, Florida Gov. Now, five decades later, Ron DeSantis is asking legislators to terminate Disney's government. This move threatens the symbiotic relationship that exists between the state of Florida and Disney. A politician representing a GOP party that has long supported its ties with business is responding to the company's opposition at what critics call the " Do Not Say Gay " law, which prohibits instruction about sexual orientation and gender identity from kindergarten through third grade.
Republican Rep. Randy Fine was the sponsor of the bill to eliminate the Reedy Creek Improvement District. The Disney government entity is also known as Reedy Creek Improvement District. Fine said that it is time for a new approach.
"If you kick the hornet's Nest, things will come up. This bill targets one company, and I'll say it again: Fine stated that it targets Walt Disney Co. You want to know the reason? They are the only company that has ever been allowed to govern themselves in the state.
DeSantis, who is a possible Republican presidential candidate, made this pitch via email Wednesday:
"Disney has been able to get away with Florida state special deals for far too long." To truly see the extent of Disney's inappropriate influence, it was necessary to look beneath the hood," the email from the governor stated.
The email stated that Disney wanted to pick a fight and they had chosen the wrong man.
Disney, based out of Burbank, California, generated more than $67 billion in revenues in 2021. Disney has declined to comment on the Florida legislation. The Florida legislation passed by the state Senate on Wednesday. It is currently being considered in the House during a special session in the Republican-dominated Legislature. The measure's effective date would be June 2023. This gives time for compromises that do not completely eliminate the district.
Before Reedy Creek was Disney's government in 1960, it was a drainage area that helped to manage the 27,000 acres (10.926 ha) that the company had secretly purchased parcel by parcel.
Initial reports suggested that there might be a "new and large industrial complex" in the area. It was linked to Cape Canaveral's Kennedy Space Center, which is about an hour away. The Orlando Sentinel published a story on Oct. 21, 1965 with the headline "We Say: Mystery Industry' Is Disney."
The then-Gov. Haydon Burns confirmed that the Disney plan was possible, stating that it would be "the most popular attraction in Florida's history."
This would be true for decades, as metro Orlando was the most popular destination in America, drawing 75 million visitors annually prior to the pandemic. In 1970, when Disney World was first opened, the metro area grew to 305,000 people. It has since grown to nearly 2.7 million people last year.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District was in some ways built on a misrepresentation. In fact, it was created when Reedy Creek officials approached Florida legislators with their plans for an East Coast Disneyland. Motels and tourist shops began to encroach on the property after the first theme park built by the company in Southern California in the 1950s. Walt Disney was determined that this would not happen in Florida.
In 1967, Disney officials, led by Roy Disney (Walt's brother), told Florida lawmakers that they were planning to build a futuristic city called the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow.
They said that the proposed city would have a rapid transit system as well as urban planning innovations. Disney therefore needed autonomy to build and decide how the land should be used. Instead of the futuristic city, Epcot was transformed into a second theme-park that opened in 1982.
"They said that they would do one thing, but they did another," Richard Foglesong (retired Rollins College political science professor), who wrote "Married to the Mouse", which recounts the formation of Reedy Creek. It was legal infirm in that regard. That is a factual argument.
Reedy Creek was permitted to construct its own roads, run its wastewater treatment plants, manage its own fire department and set its own building codes. It also had the right to inspect Disney buildings for safety. The current budget year saw $169 million in revenue and $178 millions in expenditures.
Reedy Creek basically runs a small city. As many as 350,000 people can be found on Disney World property each day as overnight guests, employees, or theme park visitors. Mosquito County was once a district. The district is responsible for managing traffic and disposing of waste.
Although Reedy Creek is primarily responsible for operating Disney World, the community is home to fewer than 50 people who live in mobile homes in two small communities, Bay Lake or Lake Buena Vista. These two municipalities were created to support the legal framework of Reedy Creek Improvement District. It is governed by a five member Board of Supervisors, each with four-year terms. To be eligible, supervisors must be landowners in Reedy Creek. Once they leave the board, they will have to give back a small portion of their land.
This is not the only thing Disney has done over the years.
The country and Florida have seen Disney as a significant political player. The Center for Responsive Politics tracks political campaign spending and reported that Walt Disney Co. and its affiliates contributed more than $20,000,000 to political campaigns for both Republicans and Democrats in 2020.
The most recent figures available show that $10.5 million was funneled by Disney-related entities to America First Action committee in 2017. This committee supports former President Donald Trump. To support President Joe Biden's campaign, Disney also contributed $1.2 Million.
Foglesong stated that "I think Disney has become a little stuck." They had tried to do it both ways by making contributions to right-wing Republicans. They believed they could have it both: be motherhood, fund the reactionary Republican politicians and enjoy apple pie.