Updated March 27th, 2024 at 22:56 IST

Disney, Florida resolve lawsuit over special district, easing strain in bitter battle

Disney has also accepted to let go of a late 2023 lawsuit which delves into public records access and put off briefings in the federal lawsuit

Reported by: Business Desk
Disney | Image:Disney
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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Walt Disney have reached a settlement to put to end a high-profile lawsuit in the state court which involves custodianship of the Walt Disney World in Orlando’s special district.

Disney has also accepted to let go of a late 2023 lawsuit which delves into public records access and put off briefings in the federal lawsuit filed against DeSantis in April last year.

This is awaiting the result of negotiations on a new development agreement for Walt Disney World.

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"This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district," Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle said.

DeSantis and Disney have been entangled in a dispute since 2022 when former CEO Bob Chapek criticised a state legislative effort to restrict classroom discussion of sexuality and gender issues for younger students, a bill called by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" measure.

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DeSantis’ speeches last year clashed with Disney during his preparation for the US presidential race, which he later retracted from.

DeSantis responded to Disney's condemn by imploring the legislature to do away with the special district that gave the company virtual autonomy over developing theme parks in central Florida. 

A district board DeSantis appointed last year for inspecting development around Disney's theme parks pulled the company to court to invalidate "backroom deals" of advantage to the entertainment giant.

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The lawsuit in state court in Orange County, Florida sought to nullify a concord made beforehand between the previous board members and Disney.

Under the settlement terms announced on March 27, Disney accepted to not contest the oversight board's view that the land use plan adopted by the previous board, in the fading days of its oversight of Walt Disney World, is baseless.

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That would result in a 2020-adopted plan as the working blueprint for the Orlando theme parks and retail district.

The two parties reached the consensus following the exit of the oversight district board chairman Martin Garcia and the district's administrator, Glen Gilzean, who moved on to accept a position as interim elections commissioner.

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"We're eager to work with Disney and other businesses within Central Florida to make our destination known for world-class attractions and accountable governance," Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Vice Chairman Charbel Barakat said.

The Florida State legislature made the Reedy Creek Improvement District in 1967 to promote Walt Disney World’s development of Walt Disney World over 38.5-square miles of land.

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Disney paid taxes to that district, which meted out municipal services and gave it exceptions from some regulations.

The company's shares were 0.4 per cent higher in afternoon trading.

(With Reuters Inputs)

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Published March 27th, 2024 at 22:56 IST