Walt Disney World and Florida, partners since 1967, seem to be at crossroads

Author of 'Married to the Mouse' explains how relationship came to form
Aerial view of Walt Disney World circa September 1971
Posted at 6:31 PM, Apr 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-22 21:58:48-04

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that strips Disney of its special tax status, which was established in 1967. However, before becoming the mouse house, the Orlando area depended on the orange business.

"They knew that only 10% of the people who went to Disneyland in California came from east of the Mississippi, so they figured there was a market for their product, for a theme park on the East Coast, but they needed to find the right place for it," Rick Foglesong, author of "Married to the Mouse," told WPTV on Friday.

Walt Disney then looked right into the heart of Florida.

Aerial view of property that would become Walt Disney World in June 1967
This is an aerial view of the property that would eventually become home to Walt Disney World as it looked in June 1967.

"They flew over Orlando," Foglesong said. "Walt looked down from the plane. He saw the criss-cross at Interstate 4 and the Turnpike and a lot of undeveloped land nearby and he said, 'That's it. That's where we go.'"

In a hush agreement with the state, Disney purchased nearly 43 square miles of land to build his Magic Kingdom, but he wanted to be able to rule it himself.

Gov. Claude Kirk and Roy Disney announce Disney World in Florida, Feb. 2, 1967
Florida Gov. Claude Kirk, left, reacts during news conference in which Roy Disney, right, made public for the first time a new Disney World complex before hundreds of travel editors and Florida businessmen, Feb. 2, 1967. The new project will cost approximately $6.6 billion and cover more than 1,600 acres.

"Walt did not like what happened at Disneyland," Foglesong said. "He did not like having to depend on the small city of Anaheim for public services, water, sewer, fire, police and the like, and he didn't like being regulated by the city of Anaheim. It was absolutely essential that they get these governmental powers and they made clear that they wouldn't come without them."

More than 50 years later, Disney's dream is now a reality. But his fantasy world could soon be on the brink of change.

Aerial view of Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in 1982
This postcard photograph provides an aerial view of Walt Disney World's Magic Kingdom as it looked in 1982.

"It could take its new investment, new parks, new rides and so forth, either to Disneyland or to some other place in the United States," Foglesong said.