Disney and DeSantis-appointed board strike deal after years of wrangling — just one day after the board replaced its Disney-critic chair

Associated with Gov. Ron DeSantis is Disney reached a settlement Wednesday in a court battle over the future of Walt Disney World following a state takeover of the theme park resort by Florida’s governor.

At the meeting, DeSantis-appointed members of the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District approved the deal, ending nearly two years of litigation that began with DeSantis taking over the district from Disney sponsors following the company’s opposition to Florida’s so. -called the “Don’t Say Gay” rule.

The 2022 law prohibits classroom education about sex and gender identity in the first grades and was promoted by the Republican governor, who used Disney as a punching bag in his speech. suspended his presidential campaign this year.

The district provides municipal services such as firefighting, planning and mosquito control, among others, and was run by Disney sponsors for most of the fifties.

The deal came a day after a new board member was appointed, replacing chairman DeSantis who was a Disney critic. Under the terms of the agreement, the agreements and the development agreement supported by Disney on the board were made by the company shortly before the government was removed and the new organization agreed to work according to the old system.

Jeff Vahle, president of Walt Disney World Resort, said on Wednesday that the company was pleased that the agreement had been reached.

“This agreement opens a new chapter of cooperation with the new administration of the province and serves the interests of all parties by helping to increase the income and create thousands of direct and indirect jobs and economic opportunities in the state,” said Vahle.

DeSantis, who was in Orlando on Wednesday, said at a press conference that he was “confirmed in all of these transactions.”

“I’m glad they were able to resolve the issue,” DeSantis said. “Those 11th hour contracts and restrictions didn’t work. We knew that.”

As punishment for Disney’s opposition to the law, DeSantis seized control of the district through legislation passed by the Republican-controlled Florida Legislature and appointed a new board of directors. Disney sued DeSantis and his nominees, alleging that the company’s free speech rights were being violated by opposing the law. A federal judge removed the case in January, but Disney appealed.

Before management of the district changed hands from Disney partners to DeSantis’ appointees early last year, Disney’s assistants in his group signed agreements with Disney to transfer the design and construction management of Disney World to the company. DeSantis’ new nominees they said that the “eleventh hour” had disrupted their energy and the county sued the company in federal court in Orlando to void the contracts.

Disney filed counterclaims that included asking a federal court to declare the contracts valid and enforceable.

Under Wednesday’s agreement, Disney will allow DeSantis’ board to decide before the entire plan is approved by Disney’s shareholders. Disney also acknowledges that development agreements and restrictive covenants entered into prior to the takeover are also void, according to the statute.

Instead, the full plan for 2020 will be used by a new board that can change, and the agreement suggests that Disney and the new board will negotiate a new development agreement soon.

Disney also agreed to stay a federal lawsuit pending negotiations on a development agreement and other issues, and it will drop its two federal lawsuits against the county, one of which is a public complaint.

“To me it seems like all sides are called ‘uncle,'” said Richard Foglesong, a Rollins College professor emeritus who wrote the definitive account of Disney World’s dominance in his book, “Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando.”

“Disney has a vested interest in resolving this and the governing body,” he added. “So, they both win.”

Since last year’s takeover, the province has seen a lot of professional activity and many have come out of polls complaining that the governing body has become politicized since it was replaced. This month, the district superintendent, Glen Gilzean, he was left in charge of district elections on half of the $400,000 salary they earn in the state, and the district Chairman of the board of DeSantisMartin Garcia, left the following week.

In his place, DeSantis on Tuesday appointed Orlando businessman Craig Mateer to the board and board members on Wednesday approved former DeSantis adviser Stephanie Kopelousos as the district’s new superintendent.

Mateer, a campaign donor to DeSantis, previously was appointed governor of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority by the Board of Governors, which oversees the state’s universities. Kopelousos was DeSantis’ chief legal officer. He also served as secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation under then-Gov. Charlie Crist was also the regional manager for Northeast Florida.

Garcia was a staunch critic of Disney and replacing him with Mateer, who is well-known in Orlando’s tourism and business circles, may have made Disney more open to the group’s deal, Foglesong said.

Board member Charbel Barakat said the board hopes to work with the entertainment giant.

“We are looking forward to working with Disney,” Barakat said after the approval.

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