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Disney And Ron DeSantis Ends Long-Running Fight

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Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have concluded their prolonged feud, paving the way for $17 billion in planned development at Walt Disney World near Orlando.

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District — an entity taken over by DeSantis in 2022, ending 55 years of Disney control and triggering multiple lawsuits — granted Disney a long-term plan for expanding Disney World. 

For the next 15 years, Disney can develop the resort without fearing political interference from Florida leaders.

This agreement means state leaders can no longer use the 25,000-acre resort's growth as a political tool, as DeSantis did two years ago when Disney opposed a state education law that critics labeled anti-gay.

Jeff Vahle, president of Disney World, said the agreement would support “the growth of this global destination, fueling the Florida economy.” 

The plan allows Disney to build a fifth theme park, add three small parks, expand retail and office space, and construct 14,000 hotel rooms, bringing the resort's total to nearly 54,000.

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Disney has allocated $17 billion for expansion over the next decade, expected to create almost 13,000 jobs

Under the agreement, Disney must spend at least $8 billion and expand its affordable housing initiative. 

Additionally, at least 50 percent of the expansion spending must go to Florida businesses under a “buy local initiative.”

Charbel Barakat, vice chairman of the district’s board, called the agreement “a monumental step.” 

Another board member, Brian Aungst Jr., emphasized the interconnected success of Walt Disney World and Central Florida.

Following the unanimous approval of the expansion plan by the district’s five board members, Disney announced it would halt all litigation against DeSantis and the district.

Disney had been engaged in a federal court battle with DeSantis and the district’s board. 

Last year, Disney filed a lawsuit claiming that the governor and his allies had violated the First Amendment by taking over the district in retaliation for Disney’s opposition to the education law. 

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A federal judge dismissed Disney’s complaint in January, and Disney had vowed to appeal. 

Related state court litigation was settled in March.

This agreement also clears the way for Disney to resume political donations in Florida. 

The company stopped campaign contributions when DeSantis took control of the tourism oversight board but recently resumed them by providing Democratic state senator Geraldine F. Thompson with free park tickets for a fundraising event.

Dennis Speigel, CEO of International Theme Park Services, said: “Disney and Florida have finally kissed and made up. 

“The breakup was a lose-lose. It was only a matter of time.”

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