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New Florida board seeks power over Walt Disney World cities


People gather ahead of the “Festival of Fantasy” parade at the Walt Disney World Magic Kingdom theme park in Orlando, Florida, U.S. July 30, 2022. REUTERS/Octavio Jones/File Photo

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’s newly formed oversight board is seeking to assert control over development in two cities where Walt Disney World Resort is located, the latest twist in a battle for authority over the company’s Florida theme parks.

A resolution, seen on Tuesday by Reuters, would give the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board the power to review and evaluate development in the 25,000-square acres of property in and around Walt Disney Co’s (DIS.N) theme parks.

The district would hold “superior authority and control” over planning, zoning and other land use in the cities of Bay Lake and Lake Buena Vista, under a Florida law that formed the state-appointed oversight board.

Disney’s major theme parks — The Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios and the Animal Kingdom — are within the city limits of Bay Lake, while the Disney Springs retail area sits in Lake Buena Vista. Some had speculated that Disney would use its influence over these two municipalities to maintain its autonomy over its resort.

A hearing on the resolution is scheduled for April 19.

A spokesperson for Lake Buena Vista and Bay Lake did not respond to Reuters’ request for comment. A spokesperson for the oversight board referred inquiries to an attorney, who was not immediately available for comment.

State Republicans last year targeted Disney after it publicly clashed with DeSantis, widely considered a 2024 presidential candidate, over a law that restricts classroom instruction of gender and sexual orientation.

In a move that current Disney CEO Bob Iger called retaliation, Florida lawmakers passed legislation that ended Disney’s virtual autonomy in developing 25,000 acres in central Florida where its theme parks are located.

But before the takeover by DeSantis’s appointees, Disney pushed through changes to the special tax district agreement that limit the board’s action for decades.

DeSantis has asked the Florida inspector general to investigate what he called “collusive and self-dealing arrangements” that aim to nullify recently passed legislation, and “defy the will of Floridians”. He said the prior board’s actions appear to represent improper delegation of authority, among other violations.