Disney and DeSantis Reach Agreement, Ending Protracted Fight


Disney and Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida have finally ended their feud, clearing the way for $17 billion in planned development at Walt Disney World near Orlando.

On Wednesday night, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District — an entity that Mr. DeSantis took over in 2022, ending 55 years of Disney control and sparking multiple lawsuits — gave the company a big part of what it wanted all along: a locked-in, long-term plan for expanding Disney World. At least for the next 15 years, the length of the new agreement, Disney can develop the resort without worrying about interference by Florida politicians.

Put bluntly, state leaders can no longer use growth at the 25,000-acre resort as a political weapon, as Mr. DeSantis did two years ago after Disney said it would fight to repeal a state education law that opponents called anti-gay.

Jeff Vahle, the president of Disney World, said in a statement that the agreement would support “the growth of this global destination, fueling the Florida economy.” It gives Disney the ability to build a fifth theme park, add three small parks, expand retail and office space and build 14,000 hotel rooms, for a resort total of nearly 54,000.

Disney has earmarked $17 billion to expand the complex over the next decade, growth it has said will create an estimated 13,000 jobs.

The district noted that, under the agreement, Disney is obligated to spend at least $8 billion. The company also must expand an affordable housing initiative and carry out a “buy local initiative,” with at least 50 percent of its total spending in expanding Disney World going to Florida businesses.

Charbel Barakat, vice chairman of the district’s board, called the agreement “a monumental step.” Brian Aungst Jr., another board member, said, “Walt Disney World is inextricably intertwined in the fabric of the state of Florida, and the success of Walt Disney World is the success of Central Florida and vice versa.”

After the district’s five board members unanimously approved the expansion plan, Disney said it would halt all litigation against Mr. DeSantis and the district.

Disney had been battling Mr. DeSantis and the district’s board in federal court. In a lawsuit filed last year, Disney said the governor and his allies had violated the First Amendment by taking over the district in retaliation for Disney’s denunciation of the education law.

In January, a federal judge threw out Disney’s complaint, ruling that it didn’t matter whether their actions were retaliatory. Disney had vowed to appeal.

Separate but related litigation in state court was settled in March.

The expansion agreement clears a path for Disney to resume giving political donations in Florida; the company halted campaign giving when Mr. DeSantis seized control of the tourism oversight board.

Disney recently dipped a toe back into the practice by giving free park tickets to Geraldine F. Thompson, a Democratic state senator. She used Disney’s noncash contribution to increase interest in a fund-raiser for her re-election campaign.

“Disney and Florida have finally kissed and made up,” said Dennis Speigel, the chief executive and founder of International Theme Park Services, an Ohio consulting and amusement park management firm. “The breakup was a lose-lose. It was only a matter of time.”



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