What would Uncle Walt think? A Disney historian explains
Disney will help employees obtain whatever medical care they seek. Image via AP.

Disney dispute
'I overestimated — or underestimated — Gov. DeSantis.'

If Walt Disney were alive today, what would he think of the Florida Legislature threatening to dissolve Disney World’s government?

Disney historian Richard Foglesong hypothesized Uncle Walt fuming at lawmakers for even considering to strip Reedy Creek Improvement District of its powers after all — in Walt’s mind — Disney World had done for Florida.

“That would clearly be the attitude of Walt and the old guard as well. They thought they were owed something for coming to the state, that they had done Florida a favor — Central Florida in particular,” said Foglesong, a retired Rollins College political science professor who wrote about the formation of Disney World in his book “Married to the Mouse.”

Pre-pandemic, Walt Disney World Resort employed more than 75,000 people, making it the largest single-site employer in the country. Millions of tourists visit Disney World theme parks every year.

In particular, the timing of the state’s fight falling on Disney World’s 50th anniversary would make it “even more offensive” for Walt, Foglesong said.

The escalating saga began when Disney initially angered many employees and the LGBTQ+ community when the company was slow to publicly denounce Florida’s new “Don’t Say Gay” bill before it was signed into law. Under pressure, Disney CEO Bob Chapek said last month he was against it and planned to speak with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis about the new law. But since then, Disney has infuriated the other side as Republican lawmakers are pushing to take away Disney’s special district, complaining that such a “woke” company doesn’t deserve these special privileges.

The Florida Legislature set up Reedy Creek in 1967 to entice Disney to the state. “They wouldn’t have come without it,” Foglesong said. The law gave Disney, which owns almost all the land within the district, powers typically reserved for governments like handling its own building codes, building roads and utilities, running a fire department and even issuing municipal bonds. Disney had the freedom and control to build and expand its Disney World empire, something Walt never fully had at Disneyland in California.

According to Foglesong, this isn’t the first time politicians scrutinized Reedy Creek.

In the 1980s, the Orange County government and Disney clashed over how to manage the area’s growing development. Orange County attorney Harry Stewart threatened to sue Disney and wanted to challenge Reedy Creek’s authority, Foglesong said. “He put the squeeze on Disney,” Foglesong said, although he added the County Commission was divided on the issue. Disney eventually offered to pay $13.4 million over five years, ending the fight, although county officials acknowledged it was just a drop in the bucket for Disney, according to Foglesong’s book.

Years later, Comcast Corp. — which owns Universal Orlando — made a surprise offer to buy The Walt Disney Co. for $54 billion in 2004. Comcast’s unsolicited offer to take over Disney left rumblings in the state government that made lawmakers review Reedy Creek for the first time in decades and take a closer look at the special district.

The Florida Legislature’s research arm issued a 2004 report looking at what actions the state could do if someone, other than Disney, controlled the land making up Reedy Creek.

“Comcast, at that time, just wasn’t well-known,” Foglesong said. “There was a concern that Comcast might not manage the property as responsibly as Disney had, and so the state was trying to scare off Comcast.”

Comcast’s deal ultimately fell through.

Foglesong admitted he’s been surprised to see the Republican attack on Disney unfolding this year. “I keep thinking that cooler minds will prevail, and this won’t happen,” he told Florida Politics on Wednesday as he described “the huge burden” that could fall on Orange and Osceola counties handling everything from building inspections to road improvements on the vast Disney property if Reedy Creek was dissolved.

He told The Associated Press: “I overestimated — or underestimated — Gov. DeSantis. I see it as a legitimate threat.”

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.


30 comments

  • Five fingers

    April 21, 2022 at 7:43 am

    That mouse is gonna make deSantis his new Minnie

    • Hate gays

      April 24, 2022 at 9:12 am

      Fuck all you fags. You all are going to enjoy hell.

  • Zhombre

    April 21, 2022 at 8:31 am

    Walt would not approve of the queer agenda pursued by the ideologues who now run Disney.

    • And I can’t wait

      April 22, 2022 at 11:56 am

      The sooner you old bigots die off the better

      • Zhombre

        April 22, 2022 at 5:22 pm

        😂 LOL you must be one of those enlightened tolerant progressive libs

      • Bill

        April 23, 2022 at 12:00 am

        Oh, so you want 6 year olds to be taught about queerness and they can choose their own agenda. You sick fuck.

      • Dave Brown

        April 25, 2022 at 11:13 am

        Diversity…inclusion? You and your kind are destroying this nation. My ancestors literally founded this nation. What did yours do? Just use this nation? Do you have any idea how to actually build a nation? Did any of your ancestors? I doubt it!

    • Kathleen M Mehler

      April 23, 2022 at 5:57 pm

      So you”re saying Walt would be fine about taking away CIVIL RIGHTS of CITIZENS that’s in the CONSTITUTION? And the sad part is, the TAXPAYERS of those counties will end up PAYING for the stupidity of DeSandis & the GOP.

      • Zhombre

        April 23, 2022 at 6:02 pm

        LOL 😂 nobody’s civil rights are compromised by that legislation, you simpleton. Get a grip. Then get a clue, you inflated ninny.

  • Richard Bruce

    April 21, 2022 at 8:56 am

    If Walt Disney was alive, the “Woke” will be eating poison apples going into hibernation waiting for their non-binary Royal to give a non-consentional sexual kiss.

  • Yamki

    April 21, 2022 at 9:24 am

    There is no such thing as a “Don’t Say Gay” bill. Lying about the legislation to further your obvious agenda does you no favors. The reality is that if Walt was still around and running things, anyone who walked off the job to protest a parent’s rights bill would have been fired on the spot.

    • Diane

      April 21, 2022 at 6:15 pm

      Illogical thought process. One doesn’t just read the words to understand the total impact of a bill. For example: the language is so broad that any response by a teacher to a student’s question on a gay relationship could be used by a parent to sue that teacher.

      • Yamki

        April 21, 2022 at 11:30 pm

        This law prevents the sexual indoctrination of children in Kindergarten through Third Grade. Five to eight year olds have no concept of gender or sexuality, unless an adult puts such concepts into their minds. If a parent chooses to do that, fine, no problem, but the role of a teacher is to teach matters that are age appropriate, not to introduce sexual subjects. Sexual orientation is not mentioned in the bill, so it is ingenuous to claim that the bill in anti-homosexual — teachers are not allowed to discuss ANY sexual topics. If it comes up, prompted by the child, the correct response of the teacher is, and should be, “Ask your parents.”

        • Yamki

          April 21, 2022 at 11:31 pm

          ingenuous = disingenuous

          • Not

            April 22, 2022 at 11:57 am

            You can’t even talk right but you know what’s best for kids lol

          • Dave Brown

            April 25, 2022 at 11:15 am

            You should leave this country!

      • Wyrd

        April 22, 2022 at 3:34 pm

        OK Groomer

      • Dave Brown

        April 25, 2022 at 11:15 am

        You are incorrect and not superior!

  • D. F. Duhque

    April 21, 2022 at 10:47 am

    Walt’s vision for the Florida Project was to build a new kind of city, an ‘Experimental, Prototype, Community (City), of Tomorrow’; not the vacation mega resort it has become. In fact, Walt did not want to build a theme park here at all. He was forced into it because his backers could not comprehend how his idea would make money. The deal was for Walt to build a theme park first, then he was free to pursue his vision. Then Walt Disney died. Six months after he died, the company quietly nixed Walt’s vision in favor of the mega resort complex because they considered Walt’s idea impractical. Walt’s deal made with Florida was made with his developing the property as a city, not a collection of theme parks. Walt Disney has been spinning in his grave long before now.

  • Ribert

    April 21, 2022 at 11:11 am

    Walt would not approve of Disney Wikeness. But Disney opened the ball game by getting political. Companies should stay out of the political arena. Now the the Mouse is looking down the barrel of a shotgun loaded with double 00 buck shot.

    • Adam L

      April 22, 2022 at 10:09 am

      Citizens’ United much? Corporations have free speech when it agrees with you, not when you don’t like it? Cancel culture much?

      • Ray

        April 24, 2022 at 11:17 am

        Sure they have free speech, doesn’t make it smart corporate policy to weigh in on a Controversial issue and alienate half your customer base. And just because they exercise free speech, it doesn’t mean they aren’t open to the consequences there of. It was foolish of Chapek to put Disney at risk. It was not a smart decision. One of many poor decisions he has made. Pretty obvious ha has to go in favor of a leader who can get Disney back on focus.

  • Comment

    April 21, 2022 at 11:18 am

    Disneyland has world Disneyland business. Has to go with the flow

  • Ben

    April 22, 2022 at 9:36 pm

    This is what happens when someone exercises their first amendment right in a republican controlled state.

    • Dave Brown

      April 25, 2022 at 11:18 am

      To blatantly promise to overthrow a duly enacted law? It sounds like California progressives…COMMUNISTS… Trying to destroy America!

  • Jerry

    April 22, 2022 at 11:27 pm

    Keep in mind that Walt was a Republican. And he feared communists. He was NOT a progressive liberal.

    He very likely wouldn’t have even got involved in this culture war.

  • Bill

    April 23, 2022 at 12:04 am

    How in the world does Richard Fogelsong not mention the fact that Walt Disney would absolutely be freaking out about the radical, far-left, sick and demented agenda of groomers who want to force gay teaching onto kids.

  • Buurmell Walter

    April 23, 2022 at 8:41 am

    If Walt was there this problem would not exist.

  • Pat Hue

    April 24, 2022 at 3:36 pm

    I have been to Disneyworld three times. I loved it! I found it to be a happy place, beautifully maintained and very creative. I don’t get these sickos that believe there is any indoctrination other than be a kid and enjoy! I think the sickos would have been the ones burning “witches” back in the day and seeing monsters and heretics everywhere. Florida get rid of DiSantis, he is a nut job using you as stepping stone in his attempt to get into the White House.

    • Dave Brown

      April 25, 2022 at 11:21 am

      Dis you miss the hidden Disney execs discussing in a board meeting how they
      Y are indoctrinating the young? I think not. I believe you to be a pathetic liberal.

Comments are closed.


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