The Daily Wire recently posted an article titled, “‘Shell Companies And Shady Lawyers’: Why Did Disney Get To Govern Itself In Florida?”
The article reports:
Why does a giant entertainment conglomerate get to self-govern on its very own slice of land in the Sunshine State — and who is left better off as that privilege appears to be coming to a close?
…If you have ever visited Disney World Resort in Lake Buena Vista, Florida, you have been to the Reedy Creek Improvement District. Sitting in central Florida to the southwest of Orlando, the area was feverishly pursued by Walt Disney himself as the home of his company’s second theme park.
Frustrated by the businesses that crowded Disneyland in California, Walt Disney set up multiple shell companies — with names like Latin-American Development and Management Corp., Tomahawk Properties, and M.T. Lott Co. — to grab tens of thousands of acres in Florida. According to journalist and author David Koenig, who has spent years covering the rise of Disney, the strategy was meant to mask Disney’s intentions in the region and thereby keep real estate as inexpensive as possible.
“There were dozens of landholders, and as soon as someone heard that Disney bought lot one, they knew the price on lots two through 50 would go through the roof,” Koenig explained to the Los Angeles Times. “It had to appear as if it were just a coincidence that there were 10 different companies buying land in the same area.”
Disney took other measures to hide the fact that it was the “mystery” land buyer acquiring uninhabited swampland at a breakneck pace. A blog post from Disney acknowledges that legal counsel Bob Foster — working under the pseudonym “Bob Price” — took steps to obfuscate Disney’s intentions from citizens of Florida.
The article explains the Reedy Creek Improvement Act:
For several decades, Disney has been a powerful political influence in Florida. According to data from Open Secrets, the company gave $350,000 to $610,000 to seven firms lobbying in Florida during the 2020 election year, followed by $460,000 to $719,974 to eight firms in 2021.
Still, Disney’s greatest lobbying victory came in the years after it acquired the large tracts of land in central Florida.
Gov. Claude Kirk (R-FL) signed the Reedy Creek Improvement Act in 1967 — the year after Walt Disney passed away — in response to the company’s lobby. The legislation allowed the state legislature to establish the Reedy Creek Improvement District, allowing Disney to act with the same authority as a county government for its 39-square-mile property. The district encompasses the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, as well as 175 lane miles of roadway, 67 miles of waterway, various power and water plants, hundreds of restaurants and retail properties, and more than 40,000 hotel rooms.
Most importantly, Reedy Creek has permission to levy taxes, issue bonds, and write its own construction and wastewater management laws — avoiding the regulatory headaches with which other companies throughout the state must wrestle.
The article concludes:
No matter how the magic stars align, University of Central Florida historian James Clark concluded that there is only one “clear winner” from the situation.
“If taxpayers get stuck with the bonds, then the counties will be the big losers from this bill, and Disney loses a lot by losing the control they get from having Reedy Creek,” Clark said. “The only clear winner if this bill passes is Ron DeSantis.”
“Whatever you do,” Walt Disney once said, “do it well.” It seems that DeSantis has taken that advice to heart.
When lobbyists get their way, the result does not always favor the voters and taxpayers. The Reedy Creek Improvement Act was not a good thing–no business should be able to set up their own fiefdom making their own laws in the middle of a state.