The Walt Disney Company has found itself on the losing end of a political fight with Florida’s Governor Ron DeSantis. Disney employs nearly 80,000 people across a sprawling network of theme parks, hotels, and restaurants in the state. Shortly after Disney released a statement objecting to Florida’s HB 1557, condemned by some as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Florida’s legislature moved to dissolve the special district where Disney World can legally operate as a self-contained government. Last Friday, Governor DeSantis gleefully approved the district’s dissolution, one day after the Florida House approved the measure.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID), is the governing jurisdiction for the land on which Walt Disney World Resort sits upon. It covers 39.06 square miles in Orange and Osceola counties in Florida. Created in 1967, the RCID allows Disney to essentially run its own government, taxing itself and using the money to fund services like power distribution, trash collection, fire and emergency medical services, flood control, road maintenance, and water treatment. The Orange County Sheriff’s Office is also contracted by the RCID to keep “The Happiest Place on Earth” safe. Basically, the RCID exercises the same powers and responsibilities as a county government, but it’s not restrained by a governmental body.
Spectators are postulating what repealing the tax status of the RCID would mean for Disney World ticket prices, but not many are considering the real estate ramifications of the change. Now that the RCID has been dismantled, property taxes within the area are expected to go up. Not only that, RCID allowed Disney to construct new buildings without having to adhere to state or county construction regulations, so dissolving the RCID will affect Disney World’s built environment, since Florida has the strictest buildings codes in the U.S.
Though it’s talked about as if it were an outlier, the RCID is one of 38,000 special districts in the U.S. according to the census, 1,800 of which are located in Florida. Though this entire debacle between Disney and DeSantis started with a war of words, DeSantis’ criticism of the RCID may have real ramifications for real estate in special districts if policymakers begin to believe that special districts are nothing more than a means for certain municipalities to skirt regulation.