Disney wins approval for $17 billion development deal with DeSantis truce

Disney and Gov. Ron DeSantis have finalized a deal to end a contentious legal battle for control of the district that oversees development around its theme parks.

On Thursday, the entertainment giant dropped its appeal of a ruling dismissing its First Amendment lawsuit against the Central Florida Tourism Control District over allegations that the group illegally invalidated an agreement that allegedly transferred certain powers of Disney’s now-defunct special tax district to the company. . The move follows the approval of a planned $17 billion development at Walt Disney World near Orlando that will bring a fifth park and three smaller parks to the resort.

With the deal, Florida lawmakers can no longer threaten to undermine Disney’s growth plans, as DeSantis did in 2021 in response to the company’s public opposition to a state law restricting classroom teaching about gender identity and sexual orientation. But it also points to a new future for Disney where it can’t essentially govern itself within the confines of its resort.

Disney World is “inextricably intertwined with the fabric of the state of Florida” and that “Walt Disney World’s success is success,” district board member Brian Aungst Jr. said Wednesday when the development plan was given the green light. Central Florida.”

Under the deal, which runs through 2040, Disney will invest up to $17 billion over the next 10 to 20 years. The expansion includes approximately 14,000 hotel rooms and 270,000 retail stores and restaurants, in addition to another major theme park and two smaller parks. The company will retain the ability to control building heights.

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“It is no secret that Disney is not only an economic driver for Florida, but more importantly, for our nearly 450,000 hospitality employees throughout the Central Florida region,” Robert Agrusa, president of the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association, said at the approval hearing. .

Robert Earle, CEO of Planet Hollywood, stressed the importance of Disney’s partnership with the country, which the company said would bring another 13,000 jobs to the region.

“It’s not just about when new attractions or new parks open,” he said. “It’s the planning that starts immediately everywhere. It’s the airlines that will start looking at increasing their existing flights. It’s the regions around the world that [will] Decide whether they will offer new travel methods. It is the hotels that will be necessary to provide additional accommodation. It’s a big picture effect: more housing is needed, more jobs are offered, and a general flow to the entire area.

At least half of the project’s total spending must go to Florida businesses, according to the agreement. Disney, which did not respond to a request for comment, has also committed to funding affordable housing, committing at least $10 million over the next decade.

The development agreement stipulates that the district, which has agreed to improve infrastructure for the duration of the deal, must provide public services and amenities, including transportation, sanitation and health systems, needed to support Disney’s investment. The company will donate up to 100 acres to create infrastructure projects, according to the deal.

The truce ends nearly two years of legal wrangling, including a lawsuit accusing Disney of secretly putting together a “series of eleventh-hour deals” to illegally retain development powers after DeSantis took control. The settlement of that case, which said the deals were “null and void,” came after a federal judge dismissed Disney’s First Amendment lawsuit after concluding that the law giving the governor the power to appoint every member of the district’s governing body was “prima facie” constitutional and unconstitutional. It can be challenged with a claim for freedom of expression.

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