In the ongoing feud between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a new development has emerged that could have significant implications for the theme park industry. Universal Orlando Resort, Disney’s key rival in the area, has secured a substantial government benefit that was previously revoked from Disney World. This turn of events adds an interesting twist to the Disney/DeSantis conflict.
A Clash of Titans
The battle between Disney and Governor DeSantis began when DeSantis launched a controversial campaign against the Walt Disney Co. This campaign was sparked by comments made by former Disney CEO Bob Chapek in March 2022, wherein he criticized the governor’s Parental Rights in Education law, also known as the “Don’t Say Gay” law. This Florida law restricts discussions related to sexual orientation and gender identity in schools for young children.
Disney World’s Exclusive Control Over Infrastructure Revoked!
DeSantis took things a step further in May 2022 by signing a bill that revoked Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special district that had granted Disney significant control over infrastructure and development on its expansive 25,000-acre property.
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This move was seen as a direct response to Disney’s opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” law. Disney responded by filing a lawsuit against Governor DeSantis, alleging retaliation for exercising its right to free speech under the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Universal’s Unexpected Advantage
In a surprising twist, Comcast’s Universal Orlando Resort has been granted a special taxing district by the Orange County Board of County Commissioners. This newly established Shingle Creek Transit & Utility Community Development District encompasses 719 acres, including the site of Universal’s upcoming Epic Universe theme park, set to be completed in 2025. Additionally, it includes 13 acres allocated for a new SunRail train station on Destination Parkway.
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The special district is expected to raise $174 million in bond proceeds to fund public infrastructure projects. Among these, $129 million will be allocated to the SunRail station, providing enhanced connectivity from Orlando International Airport to the Orlando Convention Center near Universal’s new park.
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Other projects include $40 million for odor control improvements at the South Water Reclamation Facility and $8 million for enhancements to Epic Boulevard, which leads to Epic Universe.
A Unique Composition
What makes this development particularly interesting is the composition of the special district’s board of supervisors. All of them are Universal employees, including Bradley Goeb, Bryan Julian, Erica Klostermeier, John Hanebrink, and Teresa Crews. This stands in stark contrast to the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, where all board members were Disney employees.
Shingle Creek Special District: A Key Move in Disney’s Legal Battle Against Governor DeSantis
The establishment of the Shingle Creek special district, primarily governed by Universal employees and predominantly impacting Universal’s holdings, could potentially bolster Disney’s legal battle against Governor DeSantis.
A Tale of Disney and the Playing Field
Notably, Florida is home to over 1,800 special districts, making such districts common in the state. While DeSantis portrayed the revocation of Disney’s special district as an attempt to level the playing field, he has not taken similar actions against the numerous other special districts in Florida.
Disney vs Governor DeSantis: A Clash that Shapes the Future of Theme Parks in Florida
As the battle between Disney and Governor DeSantis rages on, Universal Orlando Resort’s newfound advantage adds a layer of complexity to the ongoing conflict. The theme park industry, local communities, and stakeholders are closely watching as these developments unfold, with the potential for significant repercussions. The outcome of this feud will undoubtedly shape the future of theme parks in the Sunshine State.
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