A History of Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District – Part 2, going to the Florida Legislature

Now with the land secured and enough financing to ensure that Walt Disney World would open entirely debt-free Roy Disney and the company‘s general counsel Dick Morris began work on the next phase of the Florida Project. A full-on charm offensive on the Florida legislature. The companies’ appetite for expansion had grown with the eating and it was an absolute necessity. It would be an arduous task to get approval from a majority of the Florida house and senate for what they were planning. But there was nothing else they could do, the sheer size of functions that would have to be operated on daily at the parks required a separate electrical and sewage system from that of Orange County. The sheer volume of water distribution providing electrical power to all the different main streets, rides, amusement parks, and hotels would have stressed any of the existing authorities.

Despite Walt’s early reluctance towards undertaking such a project, Bob Foster the person responsible for all the land purchases on the project profoundly disagreed

“Without a municipality, Walt Disney World could never have been built. We would’ve had multi-layers of governmental influence building permits and inspections zoning matters both local and state.”

In short, it would’ve been a costly logistical nightmare. So the task at hand, convince the state government to relinquish almost all governing power of a sizable portion of Central Florida in exchange for all the new revenue Disney World would bring them. In 1967 after careful study and planning Foster presented Roy Disney with a memorandum for the Ready Creek Improvement District.

Every stone was checked it was an ineffective plan to circumvent governmental interference during the entire construction process and then they continue operating of the park. “Are we asking too much of them?” said Roy during the meeting he wanted to make sure that they were asking above and beyond what private companies usually obtain from state governments when they come to the state

To relieve Roy of his Midwestern guilt the company conducted a commissioned Survey of all the southeastern states and their policies of governmental incentives for industrial development. The inevitable conclusion was that the state of Florida would be conceding in the short term a bit of power and the massive legislation now approaching almost 500 pages when it would be presented to the lawmakers would require a bit of innovative critical thinking on their part to swallow some of the things Walt Disney World was asking for. However, the state could then expect a true financial windfall unprecedented in the state or the region’s history.

Yes, Disney was breaking new ground and effectively changing every rule in the book on zoning and permits and construction requirements in the Sunshine State. Disney was asking for complete and total autonomy and not subject to revision, ever. But still despite everything despite effectively giving Disney the rights to control and maintain their own government their own small country complete with police fire departments utilities environmental control and even taxing. The legislature after establishing committees to look into the legislation soon realized that they would be fools to pass on this opportunity. It didn’t take long for the legislature to be completely swept off their feet by the magic of Disney.

But then there was one other political problem the company had to face. When Walt Disney first made the announcement that he was going to create a Walt Disney World in Central Florida he had been in communication with then-governor Hayden burns who was profoundly enthusiastic about the project. Before being elected to an abbreviated two-year term as governor Hayden Burns had enjoyed a long tenure as the mayor of Jacksonville. Helping the bustling metropolis in its efforts to attract new business. The notion of a Disney theme park in quiet central Florida was a dream come true for Burns and he quickly became the Florida Project’s greatest ally in state government. There was just one problem in 1966 he didn’t get his party’s nomination for reelection.

In the end, the state would elect Governor Claude Kirk, the first Republican to hold the office since reconstruction. A businessman by profession Claude Kirk was not a fan of any part of the Burns agenda. There were fears within Disney that Kirk would stall or even terminate the project in the creation of the improvement district. However, after doing some digging, the Disney team was able to assess how best to win Kirk over. He adored attention, they showered him with it. He enjoyed traveling and loved the glamor of Hollywood, they arranged a trip to Disney for him and the state’s new First Lady. Most important to Claude Kirk, it needed to seem like a major victory for Claude Kirk. Disney arranged an impressive bill signing at the Governor’s Mansion.

On May 12, 1967, Governor Claude R. Kirk Jr. signed the Reedy Creek Improvement Act, adding the following Florida statutes to implement Disney’s plans

Chapter 67-764 created the Reedy Creek Improvement District;

Chapter 67-1104 established the City of Bay Lake; and

Chapter 67-1965 established the City of Reedy Creek (later renamed the City of Lake Buena Vista around 1970.)

According to a press conference held in Winter Park, Florida on February 2, 1967, by Disney Vice President Donn Tatum, the Improvement District and Cities were created to serve “the needs of those residing there”, because the company needed its own government to “clarify the District’s authority to [provide services] within the District’s limits”, and because of the public nature of the planned development. Yes, it was a difficult pill for the state legislature to swallow, but swallow they did, and the rewards were far lasting and generational.

But, as you can see in the People mover, Walt’s dream was just a bridge too far. A new phase of the Florida project was already in the works, but it was to be another theme park and not a showcase city of tomorrow. Epcot, even more so than the Magic Kingdom, would help define an entire age of Florida government. Each new ride would be a huge showcase for the state, and from its retro designs to its attraction towards immerging technology, it was a perfect symbol of 1980s Florida.

Yet, as we have seen by the 1990s, the crest of the wave had evaporated as a new spirit in Florida government was about to take hold. One that still hasn’t let go and has managed to undo many of the hard-earned gains of the 70s and 80s. Even taking aim at the most well-known entertainment symbol of the Sunshine state, Disney itself.

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