Controversial big changes are in the works for the Walt Disney World Resort, and everyone from Cast Members to Guests will be affected, as one of those changes involves Disney World no longer being located in the cities of Bay Lake or Lake Buena Vista, Florida.
Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed new board members to serve on what was the board for the Reedy Creek Improvement District that acts as Disney World’s self-government. On Wednesday, the new board members–four men and one woman–participated in their first board meeting as the newly-named Central Florida Tourism Oversight District–formerly the Reedy Creek Improvement District, first incepted in 1967, thanks to the efforts of Walt Disney and his brother Roy.
Wednesday’s meeting inside a hotel ballroom outside Walt Disney World was the first of many and dealt with issues and topics that any other municipal government might deal with–things like determining how to request public records, discussing bond ratings, and entertaining pleas for better equipment for the firefighters who serve the Walt Disney World Resort.
But once the everyday issues were discussed, the five new board members wasted no time jumping into discussions that hinted at future actions that may be taken by the board–actions that are wildly controversial with some Guests of Disney World and Cast Members alike.
There was talk of prohibiting restrictions at the Walt Disney World Resort that are related to the COVID-19 virus. In early 2020, as the coronavirus pandemic spread around the globe, Disney was forced to close the parks in Central Florida in an effort to stop the spread of the disease. When the parks reopened four months later, they did so with heavy restrictions in place around the resort–some related to temperature checks and others to social distancing. The mask mandates were easily the restrictions that seemed to frustrate Guests and Cast Members the most.
The board also entertained the proposal to eliminate the two cities created after the Florida legislature approved Disney’s self-governing status in 1967: the cities of Bay Lake, Florida, and Lake Buena Vista, Florida. Both of these municipalities were formed as part of the Reedy Creek Act of 1967.
The board also “approved hiring the same law firm that advised the governor’s office in making changes to the governing district to help interpret the new legislation,” according to KCCI.
The board members listened to members of the public and workers from the district’s many departments as they explained to the new board members what their responsibilities are.
“You didn’t elect us,” the board’s new chair, Martin Garcia, said to those gathered during the meeting, “but the people of Florida elected a governor who appointed us,” Garcia said. “I see there will be much broader representation.”
Garcia says the major difference between the Reedy Creek District board controlled by Disney and the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board will be a “broader constituency encompassing more than just a single company.” He says the new board will also represent workers of surrounding communities, as well as their residents.
The five new board members replaced a board that was originally controlled by Disney–and had been for the past 55 years. The change in the district’s name means that a new logo will replace the previous one on 123 vehicles, 300 trash cans, and 1,000 manhole covers.
During Wednesday’s meeting, the leader of the district’s firefighters’ union, Jon Shirey, welcomed the new board members, calling the new board “a fresh start.” The firefighters’ union has long clashed with the Reedy Creek board over issues related to firefighters’ pay, increasing the number of firefighters on staff, and more. Shirey urged the new board to allocate resources for the purchase of new fire trucks, to increase firefighters’ pay, and to hire more staff, pointing out that there are 32 firefighters on duty in the district per day currently–just two more per day than were on duty in 1989.
Time will tell whether the new board will place the needs of the district’s first responders at the top of its priorities, or if the new board will be more of the same. As for the controversial changes headed to Disney World, there is no information at this time about when such changes will be voted upon, or when they will take place.