How Florida's War on Disney Could Change the Park Experience

How Florida’s War on Disney Could Change the Park Experience

ORLANDO.- When travelers think of Disney WorldThey’re probably thinking rides, castles, a giant mouse, and an even bigger prize. Questions about garbage collection, fire departments and building codes probably don’t come to mind.

Suddenly, these behind-the-scenes operations became the in the spotlight as the Florida legislature voted this week to cancel the special district in which Disney operates. The Republican-led decision comes amid a month-long dispute between the company and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over the Parents’ Rights in Education Bill, which restricts discussion of the gender identity and sexual orientation in schools. Disney said the company’s goal was for the measure, which critics call the “don’t say gay” law, to be struck down or overturned by a court.

Established in 1967, the Reedy Creek Improvement District allows Disney to essentially support its own government, stand out and use this money to provide services such as garbage collection, flood control, electricity distribution, road maintenance, fire and emergency medical services and water treatment. The district also oversees its own building code and issues permits, giving Disney more control over what it builds. He has an agreement with the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for Law Enforcement.

Children and adults walk around Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., May 17, 2021. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

DeSantis signed the bill on Friday. If the law is not challenged in court or repealed within the next year, the district will disband on June 1, 2023. Disney declined to comment on Friday.

Next, what would change for Disney guests next summer? It’s not entirely clear, but local observers pointed to heavier processes for Disney to build new attractions.possible setbacks in the transition to utilities and higher spending for Disney, which could mean higher prices.

Aubrey Jewett, a professor of political science at the University of Central Florida, said he believed the company would try to shield customers from the negative impact of any service changes.

“We don’t know if they will be able to do it,” he said. “All of those basic county-level services that Reedy Creek provided might now have to be provided by someone else.”

Jewett said the whole ordeal will cost Disney whether they choose to appeal the legislation in court or simply choose to transition. Yes operating under a system where they have to get county approval for new projects could also cost more time and money.

“Could this translate into an increase in ticket prices? Perhaps”, said Jewett. “Disney has been really aggressive in raising prices over the years. In my opinion, they don’t need much more pressure to start again.”

Richard Foglesong, author of the book “Married to the Mouse”, said that if the district were dismantled, Disney would not have the level of control to provide its own public services and approve its own projects to develop and build faster than its competitors. He said it’s not yet clear whether removing Reedy Creek will hurt the bottom line.

Epcot Center at Disney World Orlando
Epcot Center at Disney World OrlandoEnrique Villegas – Archives

“I think there are subtle ways for Disney to lose control, they would rather have complete control aesthetically and otherwise,” he said. And he added that a big advantage of the special district is that Disney can develop and build attractions faster than competitors because it isn’t subject to the same planning and zoning requirements.

“Now they will have to go ask permission.” said Jewett. “That in itself, I think, will cost more money, more time, more resources.”

But he noted that other theme parks are already subject to county approvals when they want to expand. Rivals SeaWorld Orlando and Universal Orlando Resort are nearby; none have the kind of “self-governing” power that Disney wields.

“Universal is in the midst of a massive expansion and it looks like they can get what they want from Orange County,” Jewett said.

Foglesong, a retired political science professor at Rollins College in Winter Park, Fla., said Disneyland “does very well” without the same standalone structure in California. “He does politics like other big corporations with lobbying and campaign contributions to make his way from the city of Anaheim,” he said.

He wondered how committed Disney could be to maintaining the original structure of Reedy Creek in central Florida. He said someone will have to pay for the infrastructure and the debt if the district is abolished. He wondered: What if that someone ended up being the state of Florida?

“Perhaps those who promote the legislation will end up paying the price, not just financially, but perhaps with voters,” he said. “It could end up looking like a Disney bailout.”

Even if the Reedy Creek District were eliminated and Disney had to adjust to a new governance structure, Jewett said, he thinks the business will be fine.

Will Disney get what it wants? Probably most of the time, yes,” he said. “They are very important to our economy.”

Jewett added, “I see no reason in the world why Orange and Osceola County wouldn’t continue to work in a very positive way with Disney to try to make sure they are successful and get what they want. “

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