Disney's Battle With Florida Over ‘Don't Say Gay’ May Be Coming To An End, Possibly Thanks To Bob Iger’s Return

Spaceship Earth lit up at night behind momorail
(Image credit: Walt Disney World)

The Walt Disney Company is almost always in the headlines for one reason or another, but earlier this year it was not about a new movie release or a theme park attraction, but a political battle with the state of Florida. Florida was angry that Disney spoke out against a state bill, referred to by some as “Don’t Say Gay” and in response voted to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, the special body that manages the land of Walt DIsney World.

The ramifications of the end of Reedy Creek were potentially significant, and not necessarily all good for the state, but Florida moved quickly to vote to eliminate Reedy Creek. The district would be fully dissolved as of next year, but now the Financial Times is reporting that the Florida legislature has begun to take steps to undo that decision, and it looks like Bob Iger’s return as Disney CEO may be at least part of the reason why. 

Why Bob Iger's Return Helps Reedy Creek

Iger’s return, at the very least, gives the state some political cover to go back on the plan to end Reedy Creek. The battle between Florida and Disney was very much seen as a battle between two men, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and then Disney CEO Bob Chapek. Now that Chapek is out, the state can negotiate with the new Disney CEO without looking like they’re giving in to the guy they had a fight with.

Bob Iger publicly tweeted his opposition to the Florida bill when the initial debate was going on, but he was no longer part of The Walt Disney Company at that point. Initially Bob Chapek tried to stay out of the fight, but as the largest single location employer in the state of Florida, many, including Cast Members at the company, urged Chapek to come out against the bill, eventually the company did release a statement saying they did not support the bill and would work to get it repealed.

What Is The Reedy Creek Improvement District

The Reedy Creed Improvement District was created in the 1960s during the early days of the Disney World project. At the time, Walt Disney wanted to build a city of the future inside the property, and needed the special district in order to have the control that he wanted over it. The plans for Epcot the city ended with Walt's death. Instead Epcot became a theme park inspired by Walt's dream, but Reedy Creek has allowed Disney to mostly do what they want on the property without a great deal of oversight from Florida.

There are some significant reasons why the end of Reedy Creek might not work out quite the way conservatives in Florida would want. Under the current arrangement, Walt Disney World pays for a lot of its own municipal needs, everything from a fire department to trash collection to road upkeep. If the Reedy Creek Improvement District were to end, then taxpayers in the two Florida counties where Disney World is located would end up on the hook for those costs.

A draft bill that would keep Reedy Creek established, with some compromises, is reportedly already being drawn up. Among the reported compromises, the modified Reedy Creek Improvement District would lose the ability to build a nuclear power plant or an airport. Technically speaking, the current charter would allow that, but it’s obviously unlikely that Disney would ever exercise that power. In addition, the governor may gain the ability to appoint some members to the Reedy Creek board.

During a recent Town Hall with Disney Cast Members Bob Iger lamented that the company had gotten into the fight in the first place, and he hoped that some sort of deal could be reached, saying that while Florida was important to Disney, Disney was also important to Florida. The Mouse House is currently planning to move the entire Walt Disney Imagineering division from California to Florida, though that move was delayed for three years following the Reedy Creek fight. Iger stated during the Town Hall that he would look into the decision to move WDI.

Dirk Libbey
Content Producer/Theme Park Beat

CinemaBlend’s resident theme park junkie and amateur Disney historian, Dirk began writing for CinemaBlend as a freelancer in 2015 before joining the site full-time in 2018. He has previously held positions as a Staff Writer and Games Editor, but has more recently transformed his true passion into his job as the head of the site's Theme Park section. He has previously done freelance work for various gaming and technology sites. Prior to starting his second career as a writer he worked for 12 years in sales for various companies within the consumer electronics industry. He has a degree in political science from the University of California, Davis.  Is an armchair Imagineer, Epcot Stan, Future Club 33 Member.