A ‘Caper Worthy of Scrooge McDuck’: Behind Disney’s Reedy Creek Maneuvers

In the past few months, I have written reams – or whatever the equivalent is online – about the last minute covenants and agreements that the outgoing Reedy Creek Improvement District board (RCID) of Walt Disney World passed as it was leaving. These agreements were intended to bind the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board (CFTOD), which the state of Florida set up in order to replace the RCID Board.

The CFTOD Board met on Wednesday. Part of the meeting was devoted to discussing how Florida had given Disney such a sweet deal for so many years and how the RCID Board engaged in illegal shenanigans.

Martin Garcia, the Board Chairman, said that it is long past the time for the government to replace or abolish the RCID.

In 1967, tax bases were very small in Orange and Osceola Counties. Garcia stated that the Reedy Creek Improvement Act appeared to be a good deal. Disney agreed to build its kingdom in exchange for special rights, which would attract tourists, stimulate industry and create jobs and revenue. Disney was the only one who believed in its own act’s permanence.

He added that “Disney’s marketing and lobbying campaign was successful for 55 years.” “It was successful for over half a century because no one in Tallahassee would bring the issue to light. Governor Ron DeSantis bravely accused it of betraying fair-market competition and the citizens in Florida. Disney is the only company that still believes the Reedy Creek Improvement Act was a good deal.

David H. Thompson gave a presentation to the board. He is an attorney and professor of law who was hired by the CFTOD to investigate the actions of the RCID Board. Thompson explained how Disney had taken advantage of the generosity of the state for more than 50 years.

He reiterated Garcia’s remarks about Disney’s special treatment, and said that the company’s response in ending this treatment is what got us to where we are now.

He said that Disney has enjoyed a special deal for over 50 years that exempted them from government regulations that all other businesses in the state must comply with. “The Florida Legislature, along with Governor DeSantis, sought to put an end to this special treatment. They wanted Disney to be treated like all other businesses within the state. Disney responded with an illegal and unconstitutional effort to prolong the life of their sweetheart deal.

Thompson then explained that the RCID board had violated Sunshine laws.

He noted that “they failed to send notice to other property owners within the District.” The law is clear that such a mailing must be made. Disney’s failure to comply with the Florida people’s will is the end of their effort.

The contracts were rife with procedural violations and state contract laws. Thompson said that the board’s actions directly violated HB9, a new state law which dismantled RCID to establish CFTOD.

He declared in the most eloquent and colorful way that he could “these contracts are unfair”. These contracts are totally one-sided. Disney has been stealing governmental power for decades, and the District gets nothing in exchange. Disney has engaged in an act worthy of Scrooge MacDuck, to evade Florida laws. Its actions are illegal. “They will not be tolerated.”

Below, you can view a series slides created by retired Florida Supreme Court justice Alan Lawson to support Thompson’s claims.

Slides from a presentation by PJ Media to the CFTOD Board on Scribd

It’s clear that Disney violated the law when it had the RCID Board pass these agreements. And the internal emails received by the CFTOD lawyers proved that Disney knew about the whole deal.

The attorneys exchanged emails with an attorney who worked for both Disney and RCID. He wrote that he helped draft the contracts and his name was at the top. As the drafter of the agreement, I am comfortable with my name being on the document. From an optical perspective, this is not ideal. It would be best to have someone who is not a Disney employee draft the script.”

More is coming, and I will share it over the next few days.