Disney's Self-Governing Reedy Creek District Could End, But What Is It?

The state's Senate voted Wednesday to strip Disney of its special privileges to operate as a private government

NBC Universal, Inc.

The self-governing powers for Walt Disney World’s special district in Florida, the Reedy Creek Improvement District, could be coming to an end — but what is it?

The state's Senate voted Wednesday to strip Disney of its special privileges to operate as a private government over a 38-square mile stretch of land that includes its theme parks.

The vote came during a special session that was called to approve a new congressional map, which was expanded to include legislation on special districts. The Republican-controlled Senate also approved DeSantis' congressional map in a 24-15 party-line vote.

The Florida House of Representatives is expected to take up the bill Thursday.

Here is what you should know about Disney’s Reedy Creek special district if the announcement left you scratching your head.

What is the Reedy Creek Improvement District?

Florida legislature established the Reedy Creek Improvement District in 1967 as a private government controlled by Walt Disney World. The special district granted Disney the authority to provide government services such as zoning, fire protection, utilities and infrastructure.

The self-governing district was pivotal in the company’s dream to develop on more than 25,000 acres of land near Orange and Osceola counties in Central Florida.

(Credit: Reedy Creek Improvement District)

How did Disney get its own local government?

Disney believed that urban America could not be fixed by the mid-1960s, and the sole resolution would be to start over.

Disney owners imagined a new, futuristic city that would benefit both corporations and residents. This dream brought life to the company’s Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, also known as EPCOT.

Circa 1961: At Buena Vista, Florida, pictured are possible models of a futuristic city planned by Walt Disney for Walt Disney World as his Epcot project. (Photo by Keystone/CNP/Getty Images)

Disney needed to be independent of other local governments to build its re-envisioned model of America, so the company worked with Florida lawmakers to establish the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

However, after Walt Disney’s death in 1966, EPCOT's original “real city” model was scaled down to a theme park.

Then-Florida Gov. Claude R. Kirk, Jr. signed the charter on May 12, 1967, to create the Reedy Creek Improvement District, granting the district equal authority and responsibilities of a county government.

Why is DeSantis pushing to end Disney's Reedy Creek District?

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed into law the state's controversial "Parental Rights in Education" legislation, dubbed by opponents the "Don't Say Gay" bill. NBCLX storyteller Eric Rodriguez talked to politicians and parents both for and against the bill to learn what it's really about.

In an email fundraising pitch sent Wednesday, DeSantis, a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate, said:

“Disney has gotten away with special deals from the state of Florida for way too long," the governor's email said. “If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy."

DeSantis previously clashed with Disney over his controversial “Don’t Say Gay” law that limits instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in kindergarten to third grade classrooms.

In response, Disney suspended its political donations in the state and vowed to ensure that the bill would be repealed.

Florida Democrats in the state, meanwhile, have called the Disney legislation a "distraction" from other, more important issues.

"We should be fixing property insurance, but instead we're in a pissing match with Disney and passing the governor's unconstitutional maps," Dan Daley, a South Florida representative, told NBC News.

"I don't think we as a state should be vindictive and say, 'Hey, whenever we don't like what a company does that we should take away anything we've done for them in the past.'"

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