Disney and Ron DeSantis have ended their feud…for now

It looks like Ron DeSantis is backing down on his legal dispute with Disney. The company has signed a unanimous agreement with the DeSantis-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD), putting an end to court battles the two entities have waged for years.

The dispute began in 2022 when former Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticized the passing of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law (after months of inaction and a staff walkout over Disney’s funding of the bill.) Ron DeSantis responded by establishing the CFTOD and appointing his own board of supervisors in an effort to exert control over the state’s largest employer.

Disney subsequently sued, arguing the DeSantis’s actions were a form of retaliation and free speech violation. Although a federal judge subsequently dismissed this case, Disney filed an appeal which was still in process.

Before DeSantis’s appointees could take over the district, Disney signed an agreement with the previous governing body which put control of design and construction into the company’s hands. The incoming board claimed that this had essentially neutralized their power, and DeSantis sued to have the agreements nullified.

Now, months after an unrelated legal settlement defanged the “Don’t Say Gay” law, DeSantis’s board and Disney are putting an end to their legal battles. In the new deal signed on Wednesday, Disney agrees to invest $17 billion dollars in the district over the next 10 to 20 years, with $10 million going into affordable housing projects.

In building a fifth theme park and expanding hotel, retail and office space, the company agrees to contract over half of the labor from Florida-based businesses and construction companies. This comes after Disney canceled a billion dollar development project last year that would have created over 2,000 jobs within the state due to the legal disputes.

“Walt Disney World is inextricably intertwined in the fabric of the state of Florida,” CFTOD Board Supervisor Brian Aungst Jr said after the vote. “And the success of Walt Disney World is the success of Central Florida, and vice versa.” 

Walt Disney World Resort President Jeff Vahle added in a statement, “This new development agreement paves the way for us to invest billions of dollars in Walt Disney World Resort, supporting the growth of this global destination, fueling the Florida economy, and allowing us to deliver even more memorable and extraordinary experiences for our guests.”

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