Disney and DeSantis-appointed Florida oversight board settle lawsuit

Walt Disney Co. has settled a lawsuit with the Gov. Ron DeSantis-appointed board that governs the area encompassing Walt Disney World in Florida, drawing to a close a particularly acrimonious battle between the Burbank entertainment giant and the one-time presidential candidate.

The feud began in 2022, when Disney criticized Florida’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” anti-LGBTQ legislation. DeSantis struck back against the company by overtaking the special district that governs land development in and around the Walt Disney World resort, replacing a board that was essentially controlled by Disney.

The entity, formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District, was renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and populated by DeSantis allies, but in the final hours of the previous board’s tenure, Disney executed an agreement that would essentially allow the new district powers over only the most basic infrastructure. The district then filed a lawsuit against Disney in state court.

As part of Wednesday’s settlement agreement, Disney agreed “not to challenge” the district’s assertion that the agreement reached with the previous board was “null and void.” The district will review and evaluate a different “2020 Comprehensive Plan” and will do so in consultation with Disney.

“We are pleased to put an end to all litigation pending in state court in Florida between Disney and the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District,” Walt Disney World Resort President Jeff Vahle said in a statement. “This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the State.”

Said the district’s vice chair Charbel Barakat, in a statement: “The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District was created to bring public accountability and transparency to one of Florida’s most important destinations. We’re proud of the landmark work the District has accomplished and look forward to what lies ahead. With this agreement, 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.”

Separately, a federal judge in January tossed Disney’s lawsuit against DeSantis and others in Florida, which accused the governor of violating Disney’s 1st Amendment rights by retaliating against the company for taking a political stand. Disney appealed the ruling.

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