Disney, CFTOD Settle State Lawsuits

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The Walt Disney Company and Central Florida Tourism Oversight District have agreed to withdraw litigation at the state level, and committed to abandon federal claims pending mutual agreement on a long-term operating plan. 

Magic Kingdom Train Station 100

In 2022, then-CEO Bob Chapek publicly opposed Florida Governor Ron Desantis' so-called "don't say gay" bill, launching a 2 year battle for control over Disney's special land district. The Florida legislature took steps to eliminate Reedy Creek Improvement District, a vehicle for self-governance which dated back to the 1960s. In its place came the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District with a board hand-picked by the governor. 

Officials with CFTOD officially took control in early 2023, prompting Disney to file a variety of state and federal lawsuits accusing the governor of retaliating against free speech. 

Today brought an end to the state-level suits with both parties agreeing to dismiss their claims with prejudice. Both parties agreed to a series of concessions including voiding a development agreement between Reedy Creek and Disney which was initiated in early 2023 immediately before the CFTOD takeover, amending an energy services agreement to expire in 2028 instead of 2032 and dismissing a pending public records request related to the suit. The district also agreed to consult with Disney on a review of the 2020 Comprehensive Plan. 

Disney's federal court case is still awaiting a ruling on appeal. However, both parties have agreed to pause the appeal while they negotiate terms of a new development agreement. 

This move comes just days after CFTOD administrator Glen Gilzean was replaced by Stephanie Kopelousos, and board member Martin Garcia was replaced by Craig Mateer. Kopelousos previously served as Secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation and Director of Legislative Affairs for the DeSantis administration. Mateer is the former owner of Bags Inc., a service provider who helped manage luggage handling for the Disney's Magical Express transportation service. 

Following news of the settlement, Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle issued the following statement:

"We are pleased to put an end to all litigation pending in state court in Florida between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and 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."

The resolution comes as Disney faces local pressure from construction on Universal Studios' Epic Universe theme park in Orlando. The park is targeting a 2025 opening, with new lands themed to both Harry Potter and Nintendo as well as new resort hotels. Disney has publicly discussed enhancements to both Magic Kingdom and Disney's Animal Kingdom. However, ongoing legal disputes with the local lawmakers may have contributed to lack of progress. 

In September 2023, Disney CEO Bob Iger claimed the company has plans to invest $17 billion in Central Florida over the next 10 years. 

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District provides a variety of city services to the Walt Disney World area including fire and rescue, road maintenance, sanitation and other utilities. Approximately 90% of funding for the district is provided by property taxes paid by Disney and by owners of Disney Vacation Club timeshare developments.