• Wed. Mar 22nd, 2023


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Disney runs everything from the fire department and emergency services to electricity, gas, water and wastewater, subject to the supervision of a five-member board dominated by the company. It decides what is built, and how, and has the power to raise bonds and assess taxes. The charter for the special municipality, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, even allows Disney to build and operate an airport or a power plant using “nuclear fission” if it so chooses.

“It’s almost like a sovereign state inside another state,” said Aaron Goldberg, the author of a book on the origins of Disney World, the company’s Florida resort. Others have called it a “Vatican with mouse ears.”

At the time of the district’s creation, the brothers Walt and Roy Disney were searching for the ideal site for the successor resort to Disneyland, their California theme park. It had to be somewhere warm and near major highways — but not too near the ocean, because the company didn’t want to compete with the beach.

With the help of Paul Helliwell, a lawyer and longtime intelligence operative, they secretly acquired portions of Orange and Osceola Counties. Announcing the project, Disney spoke of his ambition to build a “city of tomorrow.”

To fulfill that vision, Disney demanded sovereignty over its own land and, to make a long story short, Florida said yes.

Disney’s futuristic city never happened. Portions became Epcot Center, and the special district has under 50 residents. And over half a century later, DeSantis is re-evaluating the state’s bargain as he contemplates some grand ambitions of his own.

“Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long,” the governor said in an email to his supporters on Wednesday. “It took a look under the hood to see what Disney has become to truly understand their inappropriate influence.”