Questions remain after Disney's special privileges revoked

'There are some complex issues here that are not yet defined,' Orange County mayor says
Posted at 9:33 PM, Apr 21, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-22 08:53:20-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — In Florida, tourism is big business to the tune of nearly $100 billion and Walt Disney World is at the heart of that industry.

"Many feel that Disney had an unfair advantage," said Peter Ricci, the director of Florida Atlantic University's Hospitality and Tourism Management Department. "I think that the timing was appropriate for the governor to move forward with his initiative. The politics behind it is far astray from what happened in reality to their day-to-day operations going forward."

Ricci said the current showdown has multiple layers. One factor Ricci points to is the pressure facing Disney CEO Bob Chapek.

"I feel that there was a heavy hand on him as a leader to listen to his cast members and to follow that pathway," he said. "However, the shareholders will now face the impediments of longer processes for permitting, longer access time for construction and a myriad of things that will shake out of this." 

With lawmakers revoking Disney's self-governing status, serious questions remain, including just who will foot the bill for all the essential services.

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said his county is facing a great unknown.

"There are some complex issues here that are not yet defined based upon the proposed language that I've seen," he said. "The devils are in the details and simply today we do not have the details."

Tourism across the state has continued to rebound, surpassing pre-pandemic levels.

Jan Jones, a hospitality and tourism expert with the University of New Haven, said that won't disappear because of one decision. 

"I think that people are still going to go to Disney," she said. "They want to go to Disney and, in some way, it may generate some positive publicity for them, and I think that's a good thing."

Jones said what will change is the way Disney does business in Florida and the potential impact on central Florida residents.

"There are a lot of other industries that have been working for many, many years in this capacity and now it's going to change," she said. 

After Thursday's vote, the measure now heads to the governor for his signature. If signed, the special improvement district would not dissolve until June 2023.