From State Prison to 5th Gate: DeSantis’ Vision for Disney World Shifts Following Oversight District Settlement

    What a difference a year makes. It’ll be one year this April since Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suggested that his new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District could build a state prison, or even a rival theme park, on land at Walt Disney World. The comments came at a time when DeSantis was soft-launching a run for President, and the Governor had a very adversarial stance toward Disney. With that Presidential bid now over but lawsuits continuing, it was time for the State to figure out a way to work with Disney.

    To be clear, the settlement is between the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and Disney, but anyone suggesting there is any daylight between 1900 Hotel Plaza Blvd in Lake Buena Vista and 700 N Adams St in Tallahassee is fooling themselves. So, this settlement is as much between the State of Florida and Disney as it is between the local taxing district and Disney. DeSantis suggested as much in recent remarks (full statement).

    When listening to the Governor’s remarks this afternoon, we couldn’t help but notice the shift in language and tone when he talked about Disney. Far from the adversarial stance that he took when suggesting a state prison could be built at the Most Magical Place on Earth, DeSantis actually suggested that Disney could build a fifth theme park with the ink still drying on the settlement.

    DeSantis brought up Universal’s Epic Universe theme park twice during the remarks, even suggesting that Disney could build a fifth gate:

    you look at Universal, they’re doing the Epic Universe. It’s going to be a huge huge game changer for this region. I got to think Disney would have an interest in maybe offering another one. The district will be ready to negotiate something to be able to be good for the state of Florida, be good for jobs, be good for all those things.

    I just think with the new Universal park, I mean I think it’s just gonna be a huge game changer. It’s bigger than their other two parks combined. I mean like imagine that footprint, that’s pretty huge. And so I gotta think that Disney would wanna answer that to be able to kinda keep up with the competition.
    Ron DeSantis, Florida Governor

    Of course, Disney hasn’t announced any plans to build a fifth theme park anytime soon, but the fact that DeSantis is even suggesting it shows just how far his (publically stated) opinion on Disney has come.

    If you’re Disney in this situation, you have to be feeling good about the direction that this is going. There has been a recent shakeup at the District with the departure of former Board Chairman Martin Garcia, and former Administrator Glen Gilzean. Replacing them are two individuals that Disney has worked with closely in the past – that’s a win. As part of the settlement agreement, the District will “consult with Disney” on a new Comprehensive Plan for the property – that’s a win. Even DeSantis’ jab that Burbank was driving Disney’s political response is a sign that the Walt Disney World operations are seen as separate from the target of DeSantis’ original beef – that’s a win. Even DeSantis’ comments largely position this as a win-win scenario, which is a win for Disney when they’ve been the Governor’s punching bag for years.

    This shift in tone from the Governor now gives Disney more solid footing to (literally) build on than the metaphorical quicksand that Disney World turned into during the ongoing legal battles. Don’t take it from me, either. Take it from Disney CEO Bob Iger, who said that DeSantis was retaliating against the Company and that future investment in Walt Disney World was put in jeopardy. Disney Experiences Chairman Josh D’Amaro essentially echoed Iger’s statement, saying that it was his hope that Disney would be able to continue investing in Walt Disney World. There’s little doubt that the ongoing litigation was casting a shadow over plans to invest $17 billion at Walt Disney World over the next decade. Now, that shadow appears to be fading.

    The settlement today is a win-win. The Governor and one of the state’s largest employers are getting back on the same page. As fans of Disney, we’re hopeful that Disney views this as a win, and is able to continue to invest at Walt Disney World. Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle certainly seems hopeful too.

    In a statement issued earlier today, Vahle said that Disney is “pleased to put an end to all litigation pending in state court in Florida between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District”. He went on to say that the settlement “opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district”, and that the agreement “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”.

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    1. “To be clear, the settlement is between the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and Disney”

      What happened to DeSantis’ hand picked CFTOD board members? Definitely a change in tone.

      You act as if the fifth park was a new thing DeSantis invented. Disney has broached the possibility. It was in the development agreement that was just deemed null and void. I’m pretty sure it will be revived since they will start over in negotiations with CFTOD.


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