May 31, 2023

Brighton Journal

Complete News World

Disney snubbed Reedy Creek’s new panel before handing control over to WFTV

ORANGE COUNTY, FL — In their final days of control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District Board, Disney executives and attorneys have found a way to poison the power of the new members appointed by Governor Ron DeSantis and effectively oversee the development of the area.

On February 8, 2023, as the Florida Assembly was passing legislation to give DeSantis his new power, the Reedy Creek board members signed a development agreement with the company that allowed Disney maximum developmental power over its lands for 30 years.

According to the new board members, now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board and their attorneys, Disney is allowed the maximum possible density and heights within Walt Disney World. Other property owners will need Disney’s permission to expand within the district, and they and the leaders of Reedy Creek will need to get Disney’s approval if they make any aesthetic changes to their properties within the district.

The board members said the district is also not allowed to allow ads for any companies that compete with those that operate within Reedy Creek.

Read: What will Disney’s new Reedy Creek area look like?

“We are losing control of everything except road and infrastructure maintenance,” said one board member.

The board members said they found out about the agreement after they were hired.

Both of them and their newly appointed attorneys called the agreement various synonyms for insane and extreme, and said its sheer size should render it null and void.

READ: Disney World Doesn’t Plan to Fight Changes at Reedy Creek, President Says

Particular focus was placed on a section that board members said was closed to development rights to a particular parcel until 21 years after the death of the youngest current descendant of King Charles, or until Disney relinquishes the resort.

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“We gave government control to Disney,” summed up Brian Angst.

The other board members were more harsh in their assessment.

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Read: DeSantis signs a law dissolving Reedy Creek, bringing the Disney Improvement District under state control

“Disney tried to be king for a day,” said Chairman Martin Garcia, referring to the company’s most famous park.

The board members hired several law firms connected to politics to represent them and analyze the agreement, and discussed bringing in as many as four different firms to battle the deep-pocketed firm as they tried to dissolve it. García indicated that it would be taken to the Supreme Court of the United States if necessary.

Some of the board members said they hope Disney executives and lawyers will be willing to come to the negotiating table and reach a settlement agreement before any legal steps are taken, though others were not so sanguine.

READ: Reedy Creek Board of Directors Heralds New Era, Defends Itself During First Meeting

Disney’s communications team did not respond to multiple questions sent to them about whether they would concede or fight, and whether that was the reason the company chose to hand over control of Reedy Creek without a fight. However, they did email a requested statement summarizing their position:

“All agreements signed between Disney and the District have been appropriate, discussed and approved in open public forums and observed in compliance with the Government of Florida’s Sunshine Act,” a spokesperson said.

WFTV worked with an independent attorney who specializes in government law to analyze the agreement Wednesday morning. Upon initial review, the attorney said the agreement appeared to be valid.

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Read: A look at the bill that could solve Disney’s Creek Reddy

“I find it difficult to find a reason why it would be illegal,” said the lawyer, noting that the kind of agreement entered into was normal between large developers and governments, and it was properly noted and willingly entered into by the Reedy Creek leadership.

The lawyer said the unusual part was the jurisdictions in which the agreement was preserved. However, the attorney did not note that something about Reedy Creek’s current structure was normal, and in that context, the agreement made sense.

They also said Reedy Creek and Florida representatives could run into constitutional issues if they try to back out of the agreement because governments cannot block existing contracts.

Read: Florida Special Session: 189-page bill proposes future for Reedy Creek

The attorney cautioned that they could not predict a judge’s interpretation of the law, but said the agreement would likely be fought in federal courts, which would be seen as friendlier to Disney than the Florida justice system subject to DeSantis’ influence.

Despite outlining the initial stages of the legal battle, some Reedy Creek board members said their focus was on supporting democracy and the will of the electorate, not fighting Disney.

“We’re not taking an anti-Disney position,” said Engst. We stand up for ourselves and we stand up for people, and we’re going to be ready for what the next steps are. I hope the next steps will be collaborative.”

WFTV called DeSantis’ office to ask if his team knew about the February 8 agreement before making the dates.

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A senior staff member in the governor’s office said they were unaware of this agreement until Reedy Creek attorneys recently informed them of their findings, and the office considers the agreement legally void.

They said they were somewhat surprised by Disney’s willingness to comply with the region’s delivery, and not surprised that the company had gone a step under the radar.

They added that taxpayer money will not be used in this fight, as the district is funded by taxes from Disney and other companies in the area.

Taryn Fensky, director of communications for Governor DeSantis’ office, issued the following statement:

“The Governor’s Executive Office is aware of Disney’s recent efforts to enforce contracts prior to the ratification of the new law transferring rights and powers from the former Reedy Creek improvement area to Disney. An initial review indicates that these agreements may have significant legal flaws that would render the contracts null and void Legal. We are pleased that the new board appointed by the governor has retained several financial and law firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past conduct.”

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