What is Disney World actually worth? Tax assessment battle heads to court
Image via AP.

SeaWorld and Universal Orlando reopened earlier June 2020, while Disney plans to reopen in phases starting July 11
Disney isn’t the only theme park company challenging tax assessments in court.

What is the value of the world’s most popular theme park?

Disney is arguing its property tax assessments are too high for the Magic Kingdom and the other three Orlando theme parks, its hotels and other facilities that make up the company’s sprawling Central Florida real estate portfolio, according to a dozen lawsuits Disney filed last month in Orange Circuit Court for the 2020 tax year.

For Disney, contesting the assessments, which the company calls “excessive,” has become an annual event since Disney started suing over them for the 2015 tax year in an attempt to lower its property taxes.

The property appraiser’s office assessed the 2020 value of the Magic Kingdom at $507 million, Epcot at $553 million, Hollywood Studios at $540 million, and Animal Kingdom at $437 million, according to the newest round of lawsuits. That led to property tax bills totaling $7.2 million for Epcot and $6.6 million for the Magic Kingdom, according to receipts Disney provided in court documents. Disney also paid $7 million and $5.7 million in property taxes for Hollywood Studios and Animal Kingdom in 2020.

When reached for comment Monday, new Orange County Property Appraiser Amy Mercado declined to comment on the Disney lawsuits. Mercado’s office has not been served yet, said Ana Torres, who is Mercado’s chief deputy property appraiser and serves as general counsel.

Disney isn’t the only theme park company challenging the 2020 assessments in court.

Last month SeaWorld sued over its three Orlando attractions after the property appraiser’s office assessed the value of SeaWorld Orlando theme park at $196 million, $49 million for the Aquatica Orlando water park, and $44 million for Discovery Cove.

UCF Hotel Venture, a partnership between Universal and Loews Hotels, is also disputing the assessments for three hotels: Royal Pacific, Hard Rock and Portofino Bay.

Disney, SeaWorld and Universal argued the assessments were excessive and the appraiser did not follow professionally accepted appraisal practices, although none of the lawsuits provided further details on the allegations. All three companies declined to comment Monday when reached by Florida Politics.

In past years, then-Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh, who was first elected in 2012, clashed with the theme parks over what their properties should be valued at. In 2015, Singh even went on the offensive and took SeaWorld to court, suing after an independent board lowered the company’s taxable value by about $10 million.

Singh’s spokesperson had previously told the media Disney World was regularly undervalued by previous appraisers and Singh vowed to fight The Mouse in court. “We hold their feet to the fire,” Singh told the Orlando Sentinel in 2016. Meanwhile, a Disney spokeswoman argued the resort believed its property assessments were unreasonable and the company was doing what any Orange County property owner would do — which is to contest them in order to fix the errors.

Singh was a controversial politician who later faced whistleblower complaints and a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation over allegations of improper behavior while he was in office. Singh was not charged after the FDLE investigation, but he was ousted by voters in the 2020 election. Mercado, who was sworn in this year, is aware of the long legal battle between Disney and the previous property appraiser, Torres said.

Last updated on July 13, 2021

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is a journalist who covers theme parks and Florida tourism. She previously worked at the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, the Toledo Blade and the Kalamazoo Gazette. She graduated from Michigan State University.


3 comments

  • Jeff Magladry

    July 13, 2021 at 11:14 pm

    Of course Mercado is aware of the lawsuits – they put her in office with a smear campaign against Singh. Long live the Mouse.

  • Ed

    July 16, 2021 at 9:06 am

    Jimimy Cricket, that’s a lot of cabbage. If the Mouse doesn’t pay the taxes, the fine residents of Orange County will be on the Hook.

  • Keith

    July 22, 2021 at 7:35 pm

    The four seasons hotel that is surrounded by Disney property, just sold for 610 million. How is it possible that a hotel full of people visiting Disney parks, is worth more that an entire theme park? Sounds to me like Disney doesn’t care to pay school taxes.

Comments are closed.


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