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    Disney, Florida Settle Legal Claims as DeSantis-Iger Fight Over Special District Winds Down

    By Winston Cho,


    Disney and allies of Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis have settled a legal battle for control of the district that oversees development around the company’s theme parks.

    The deal, reached on Wednesday, resolves litigation in state court accusing the entertainment giant of covertly cobbling together a “series of eleventh-hour deals” to illicitly retain development powers after DeSantis assumed control.

    “This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district and serves the interests of all parties by enabling significant continued investment and the creation of thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunity in the State,” said Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, in a statement.

    Under the settlement, Disney stipulates that the development agreements are “null and void.” The two sides will immediately start the process of negotiating a new deal.

    “We are glad that Disney has dropped its lawsuits against the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and conceded that their last-minute development agreements are null, void, and unenforceable,” said a DeSantis spokesman in a statement. “No corporation should be its own government. Moving forward, we stand ready to work with Disney and the District to help promote economic growth, family-friendly tourism, and accountable government in Central Florida.”

    In the deal, Disney also agrees to drop its lawsuit against the CFTOD over claims that the group illegally voided an agreement that allegedly transferred certain powers of the company’s now-dissolved special tax district back to Disney.

    “This action signifies a full and final resolution of the matters addressed with the PR Lawsuit, with no party admitting any fault or liability, but rather choosing to move forward in a spirit of cooperation and mutual benefit,” reads the settlement, which notes that Disney agreed to withdraw all public records requests submitted to the district and the governor’s office.

    In January, a federal judge dismissed the lawsuit after concluding that the statute granting the governor the authority to appoint every member of the tax district’s governing body is “facially constitutional” and cannot be challenged with a free speech claim. Disney appealed the ruling.

    The deal was approved Wednesday by members of the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, who were handpicked by DeSantis after he took over the special tax district.

    The settlement resolves sprawling litigation over retaliatory measures taken by DeSantis after Disney publicly opposed the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law, which restricts instruction in the classroom on gender identity and sexual orientation. In response, DeSantis shepherded a bill granting him the authority to appoint every member of the special tax district’s five-member governing body.

    The day before the state legislature passed the bill reshaping the leadership structure and changing the name of Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District, the entertainment giant quietly crafted a new development deal that it said allowed it to retain its development powers. The CFTOD sued in state court, alleging the old board didn’t give proper notice to contest the agreement. Disney filed a series of counterclaims on top of filing a complaint in federal court, including for breach of contract and violations of the Florida constitution over its due process and free speech rights. It moved for damages and an order forcing the district to comply with the terms of the development agreements.

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