Disney made last-minute deal with former Reedy Creek board giving company wide powers, new board says

‘This essentially makes Disney the government,’ Ron Peri says

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – A meeting Wednesday morning of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board — which replaced the former Reedy Creek Improvement District — opened with members’ statements that there’s not much they’re actually allowed to do.

The board announced that a hired special council discovered agreements were made in February between Disney and Reedy Creek, weeks ahead of the signing of HB-9B, which handed over direct control of the district’s development rights and privileges to the company.

Board member Ron Peri said the group of five that Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed to take control of Disney’s “corporate kingdom” has very little power to govern.

“I cannot tell you the level of my disappointment in Disney. I thought so much better of them. This essentially makes Disney the government. This board loses, for practical purposes, the majority of its ability to do anything beyond maintain the roads and maintain basic infrastructure,” Peri said.

The board was initially given little direction from the state other than to meet at least once a month and that the board may adopt and enforce rules governing the conduct of the board and its members.

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The special counsel reported that the development agreement will last for decades and bars the new tourism board from making changes to properties without Disney’s approval.

Peri described the timetable outlined in the developer agreement between Disney and the Reedy Creek board, which was put into effect on Feb. 8.

“I’m going to read to you the term of this restrictive covenant. ‘This declaration shall continue in effect until 21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, King of England, living as of the date of this declaration,’” Peri said. “So, I mean, I don’t know what else to say. I think these documents are void ab initio, I think they were an extremely aggressive overreach, and I’m very disappointed that they’re here.”

The board sought to hire legal counsel to potentially challenge Disney in court, members said. According to board member Brian Aungst, Jr., the new board was stripped of most of its power before it ever convened.

“On the day that the legislation was passed by the Florida House, the former board and Disney entered into a development agreement and deed restrictions that essentially stripped most of the governing authority of the district and also made certain promises and concessions to Disney for many, many years out into the future,” Aungst said. “They have tried to take that away from this board, the ability to provide that oversight, and we’re not gonna let that stand.”

Walt Disney World Resort on Wednesday provided News 6 with the following statement:

All agreements signed between Disney and the District were appropriate, and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law.

Walt Disney World Resort

The governor’s office provided News 6 with the following statement in response to Disney’s actions:

The Executive Office of the Governor is aware of Disney’s last-ditch efforts to execute contracts just before ratifying the new law that transfers rights and authorities from the former Reedy Creek Improvement District to Disney. An initial review suggests these agreements may have significant legal infirmities that would render the contracts void as a matter of law. We are pleased the new Governor-appointed board retained multiple financial and legal firms to conduct audits and investigate Disney’s past behavior.

Taryn Fenske, Communications Director for the Office of Governor DeSantis

The state’s attempt to take over the district began in 2022 after the company spoke out against the “Parental Rights in Education” law restricting classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity, known among its critics as “Don’t Say Gay.”

Rep. Randy Fine, R-Brevard County, sponsored the bill and said in April 2022 that Disney “chose to kick the hornet’s nest.”

Revisions of the legislation eventually amounted to a revamping and renaming of the district rather than the total dissolution lawmakers sought to put Disney on a level playing field with other area theme parks. The final bill was approved during a special session and signed by DeSantis during a news conference at a Reedy Creek fire station.

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About the Authors:

Carolina Cardona highlights all Central Florida has to offer in her stories on News 6 at Nine. She joined News 6 in June 2018 from the Telemundo station in Philadelphia.

Brandon, a UCF grad, joined the ClickOrlando team in November 2021. Before joining News 6, Brandon worked at WDBO.