D’Amaro Discusses Disney World Expansion & Reedy Creek’s Replacement
In an interview with Orlando Business Journal, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro discussed the takeover of Reedy Creek Improvement District by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis as well as plans for Walt Disney World expansion. This post shares what he had to say, plus our commentary about the future of Walt Disney World and its oversight.
Let’s start with a quick recap of what’s happened since we last covered the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) saga. State lawmakers passed a bill that renamed the Reedy Creek Improvement District, while maintaining the special district’s taxing benefits and most of its unique authorities (with some exceptions). The key change was that the Governor of Florida would appoint the district’s board.
Governor DeSantis thereafter signed the bill into law, and appointed members to the newly-dubbed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. At a press conference, DeSantis announced his five appointees, all of whom are political donors or loyalists, while also proclaiming that there’s a “new sheriff in town” and promising “accountability” for Disney. Among many other things, he claimed that the board members would ensure that Walt Disney World will be “what Walt envisioned,” and gave examples of limits his appointees could impose and how future Disney content could be shaped.
In response, Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle issued a statement that seemed to deescalate and further back down from any future fight over the Reedy Creek Improvement District.
“For more than 50 years, the Reedy Creek Improvement District has operated at the highest standards, and we appreciate all that the District has done to help our destination grow and become one of the largest economic contributors and employers in the state. We are focused on the future and are ready to work within this new framework, and we will continue to innovate, inspire and bring joy to the millions of guests who come to Florida to visit Walt Disney World each year,” read Vahle’s statement.
In his interview with OBJ, Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro struck a similar tone: “The reality is we work with different people around the world at our different theme parks. So we know how to work with different people. For all those reasons, I have to look at the situation of where we are going — I believe in where we are going — and I hope the board sees the same.”
“If that new board understands the value that gets created here and how it positively impacts the Central Florida community, I think they will be aligned with our vision and will carry on the Reedy Creek soul that’s been in place,” he said.
D’Amaro also told OBJ that Walt Disney World still embraces the differences in the world and welcomes all kinds of visitors, regardless of their political backgrounds or other beliefs. To that point, he added: “Will there be noise on the outside? Will there be different points of view that we may not like? Sure…[but] we are not going to get distracted.”
Shortly after publication of that piece, Disney released a clean-up quote from D’Amaro that was a tad more concise and clearer in Disney’s collaborative intentions with the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District:
“The Reedy Creek Improvement District created and maintained the highest standards for the infrastructure for the Walt Disney World Resort. We are hopeful the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District will continue this excellent work and the new board will share our commitment to helping the local economy continue to flourish and support the ongoing growth of the resort and Florida’s tourism industry.”
I’m going to dispense with the RCID changeover commentary quickly before turning to expansions. First, because it’s pretty clear that Walt Disney World isn’t going to challenge this, meaning the Reedy Creek saga is effectively over. So long as high-profile corporate reps deliver deferential and measured quotes (likely why D’Amaro issued a ‘clean-up’ statement after the OBJ piece and why Iger hasn’t said a single word), this will finally fizzle out.
Second, because this is frankly not how I expected this to play out. Although it’s not what was originally promised by the state, it’s still pretty close. Moreover, it’s far from the compromise that was rumored earlier this year that would’ve been a mutually-beneficial outcome for both sides. Make no mistake about it, this is a loss for Disney, and one that poses a future liability.
The reason Disney isn’t pressing this further or challenging it in court, either directly or via a proxy with standing, likely has more to do with politics and optics than the law. It’s hardly a secret that DeSantis has presidential aspirations–he’s basically already soft-launched his run as a book tour.
Disney challenging this in court only prolongs the fight, and makes the company a punching bag during a high-profile run for the White House. It’s safe to assume they don’t want that type of attention or scrutiny, much less to be the public “foe” of a future president.
Whether Disney would win in court is almost immaterial. The company’s calculus is clearly that it’s more damaging to continue the fight than it is to risk being subject to the whims of political appointees. For Disney, it’s a matter of choosing the least-bad option and hoping they picked wisely, both in the short and long-term.
In an environment of rational actors, Disney would be correct. The interests of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and Walt Disney World would be aligned, as both would want to promote tourism and grow the local economy. However, that’s a fairly bold assumption in the actual current environment, though. I certainly can’t fault them for the decision, but here’s hoping they made the right call.
Moving along, Josh D’Amaro also discussed future growth at Walt Disney World during his interview. “Tron is spectacular, and adding something of this size and scope to the most visited theme park in the world is pretty ambitious and incredible. You see the guests walking off that experience … the look on their faces — and it adds to the whole experience we offer here. But there’s no end.”
“Tron is the tip of the iceberg of what’s coming,” D’Amaro teased. “We are just getting started.”
Normally, we’d write this off as typical posturing during the marketing push for a new attraction. After all, what else is Josh D’Amaro supposed to say? “Walt Disney World is now completed. Now that TRON Lightcycle Run is finished, there is no unused imagination left in the world. SO WE’RE DONE, FOOLS.”
Mic drop that that might be, I cannot imagine D’Amaro saying anything like that. So of course he’s going to talk up the future, hyping specific projects like Moana’s Journey of Water and Tiana’s Bayou Adventure. With that, it makes sense that he teases that more is to come, while making odd iceberg references, because those are famously known for fruitful completion of ambitious plans, and not at all for sinking ships!
In this case, though, I think there is more to D’Amaro’s tease. You might recall that recently-returned CEO Bob Iger ended the last earnings call by saying that he’s “very, very bullish” about the future of Walt Disney World and Disneyland.
Iger further clarified what he meant by this, specifically: “We have learned that when we invest in increasing capacity, with Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge being a good example of that and Pandora a great example of that, we can grow our business.” Iger indicated that if you look at the results when Pandora – The World of Avatar was built in Disney’s Animal Kingdom, the year-to-year growth numbers in terms of the number of people who visited were “stunning.”
He went on to infer that Disney is going to bring Avatar to Disneyland for the same reason, and that he was investigating other such opportunities. “I talked to Josh D’Amaro about that this morning. Carefully look at all the great franchises of the company, and see where we can invest in them in the parks to increase capacity, while preserving guest satisfaction.”
We discussed all of this in great length in Bob Iger Wants Big Expansions at Walt Disney World & Disneyland. All of that commentary still holds true, and is reinforced by this and other statements from Josh D’Amaro. Most notably, it’s consistent with D’Amaro’s D23 Expo presentation, during which he discussed early concept explorations for Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom. This included a replacement for Dinoland USA at Animal Kingdom, and potential expansion opportunities including a Zootopia Metropolis and Moana Mini-Land.
It also included a bold proposal for Magic Kingdom growth, albeit with shaky specifics–that portion was much more ‘blue sky’ in what it could entail. That presentation looked at Magic Kingdom Expansion Possibilities “Beyond Big Thunder” and showcased possible Coco, Encanto & Villains lands. While there was initial excitement among fans, that quickly soured. The positive sentiment gave way for skepticism about these possible plans, especially in light of Disney’s not-so-stellar track record in building things that were “firmly” confirmed at past D23 Expos.
Ultimately, our view is that Josh D’Amaro’s teaser is not typical marketing bluster, nor is Bob Iger’s bullishness on big expansion at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Obviously, actions speak louder than words, and it might be hard to take these claims at face value given all of the scaled back plans, cancelled projects, and the fact that it took how many years to clone a short roller coaster in an empty warehouse. That’s fair.
Less fair are claims that the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District will cause the company to stop construction at Walt Disney World or cease investments in Florida. While not challenging the RCID state takeover may come back to bite Disney, there are absolutely no signs that they view it as an impediment to current or future plans. If they did, they would fight it. At present, Disney still has plans to relocate Walt Disney Imagineering’s core creative campus to Lake Nona, and it’s likely that future unveiled later this year–potentially at Destination D23.
There’s also the reality that Walt Disney World continues to outperform, and investors have begun to take notice of its success. This coupled with Wall Street souring on streaming means Disney may finally start to bet bigger on its theme park business. In light of that, we might be standing on the precipice of the next big development cycle that will once again start at Animal Kingdom (just like the last one!) and play out in this same fashion with major new additions to each park coming online between 2026 and 2031.
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What is your reaction to Josh D’Amaro calling TRON Lightcycle Run the “tip of the iceberg of what’s coming” or saying that Disney is just getting started on park expansion at Walt Disney World and Disneyland? Any thoughts on the naming of Reedy Creek Improvement District and the governor appointing its board? Keep the comments civil, as this is not the place for politically-charged arguing, antagonism, personal attacks, or perpetuating pointless culture wars. While this topic is inherently political, we will delete comments that amount to little more than vapid political cheerleading. Respectfully debating the change is totally fine, but don’t attack others or troll for controversy. That’s why Facebook was invented.
What I would give to be a fly on the wall in a conversation between an exec in Florida having to deal with DeSantis and his ilk and an exec in Shanghai having to deal with the CCP…
This is all very strange and weird. From the inside, Reedy Creek was a mess. Maybe Disney couldn’t put up a fight, so they didn’t. Perhaps the war is yet to come. Who knows. Maybe this was Disney’s way of getting out of self-governance in Florida. Who knows.
If WDW had challenged the Reedy Creek legislation, I suspect they would be strong legal footing. But agree with you — They felt it wasn’t worth the optics of a partisan fight, where it creates the impression that they are on a political side. No matter which side they are on, it would upset a huge portion of their customers.
So I think they quietly concluded they could live with the additional oversight, and they are probably confident they can wield their power behind the scenes to get friendly board members appointed.
I sadly do think it creates a dangerous precedent where more governors and legislatures seek to score political points by bullying private companies. (On both sides of the aisle).
In a normal legal context you may be right, but the current Supreme Court is unpredictable at best. Even if Disney was in the right, that doesn’t mean that they would win the case. If I was their lawyer I would have advised them to play it cool too. The risks of pushing forward with a legal challenge in the current atmosphere are very, very high.
I really hope you’re right and we see expansions in the coming years. That seems like the right direction for Disney. Really looking forward to the possibilities!
But as far as, “The interests of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and Walt Disney World would be aligned, as both would want to promote tourism and grow the local economy.”…I just don’t know. The meeting today was a bit foreboding. The board is now made up of “Bridget Ziegler, a conservative school board member (co-founder of Moms For Liberty) and wife of the Florida Republican party chairman Christian Ziegler; Brian Aungst Jr., an attorney and son of a former two-term Republican mayor of Clearwater; Mike Sasso, an attorney; and Ron Peri, head of The Gathering USA ministry.” If you don’t think those 5 people have an agenda in mind, it’s turning a blind eye to what they’ve already done.
Fully agree on the CFTOD, or whatever it’s called. While, in theory, DeSantis got his “win” and that should be that, this now means WDW has to deal with a board that cares more about fighting culture wars than anything else. Disney is opening WDW operations up to trouble anytime it releases something (even if it has nothing to do with the parks) that DeSantis and this board deem to be too “woke.” Not to mention that DeSantis is going to have an uphill battle against Trump in the GOP primary and antagonizing Disney through the CFTOD is going to be pretty low-hanging fruit if he needs a boost.
DeSantis politics aside, losing control over Reedy Creek is something Disney is never going to get back. Even if future administrations of either party don’t feel the political need to use Disney as a punching bag, there’s no way there is the political will that exists to give control over Reedy Creek back to Disney, unless the new governing body creates such a mess of things that the problems start affecting the government and residents of Orange and Osceola counties. Even then, they don’t have the power on their own to change statewide politics in Florida, when everyone else is convinced Reedy Creek is some kind of tax scheme (which it’s not).
We ventured to Tron for our preview this past weekend. I wasn’t able to ride the bike but utilized the fat-shaming Rover seat which only had one two seater per ‘train’ (not sure what they’re calling the line of bikes). It was pure chaos as the Rover line was longer than the que. My husband was able to do the bike but felt it was extremely uncomfortable, especially how you have to hold your head. He said I probably had a better view than him with the opened Rover car. I never saw any cast members pulling people from the line who were questionable in size. Trying out the bike was a voluntary process, one I’d encourage people to do before entering the ride. Otherwise it’s gonna be a real mess with people holding up the ride once it’s open to all. One thing I didn’t like was being put into the Rover seat with a male stranger (I’m a female). I stated to the cast member that I was not comfortable with that situation. She replied it was necessary for the efficiency of the ride, meanwhile there were five empty bikes on that same ride. Just thought people should know what they’re in for. I see many problems with this ride design going forward.
I’m all about the parks. That’s where the concentration should be. I’m made hopeful by the remarks.
I hope JD is right about “the tip of the iceberg” and Disney starts moving fast at creating new shows and rides. Least we forget it’s what’s below the tip that sinks the sip and currently what’s below the waterline is a third gate at Universal. On the bright side a third gate at Universal will help reduce the crowds at WDW. I guess either way it’s a win win.
I’m surprised at Disney’s response so far. I totally get the strategy of not wanting to be a political piñata, but I think it’s clear at this point that with certain actors, they will be brought in to make a headline if necessary. Something in the future could get denied in reaction to a storyline, a character, whatever, just for the headline. It’s a huge gamble on Disney’s part to assume they’ll evade that by playing nice.
Maybe I’m overly concerned, though, considering DeSantis/the FL legislature has already shown alignment with Disney by one measure so far: the mouthful naming conventions. I still don’t think I’ll remember the full name of this new district five years from now.
“If they did, they would fight it.”
I disagree, especially since they lost bigger than both Tom and I thought, but only about when they would fight it. Without breaking the rules, I think Anaheim shows that Disney knows how to play the long game.
I think Disney isn’t fighting it in Florida because the truth is that the right is saying this is not doing anything to Disney and that Disney still keeps everything. I think the reality is that Florida is still willing to allow Disney to do what it wants so long as it keeps it’s nose out of public political fights. And Disney knows it.
Haha! wait till DeSantis announces presidential run and within 2 weeks Disney will announce that there moving Disney World to somewhere more “business friendly,” either SC or E. TX.
Word is they’ve bought huge tracts of land both places. Good job culture warrior you managed to run off your states largest employer with your nonsense. Good luck with whole campaign thing.
Maybe this is just trolling to get a reaction and I’m falling for it. No way Disney abandons existing parks/infrastructure spending Billions upon Billions to relocate. Especially to another state that would happily put the same restrictions on them for politics headlines.
Are you mental? They haven’t paid anything in taxes. Disney owes Florida over 700 million. They brag they made billions in profits from the parks. Dems want fair share well you got it. Pay up disney. They aren’t going anywhere. They will remain in Florida. Disney is hurting big time. The only ones that don’t see that are the ones living in Fantasyland.
Sure, they’ll just move a half a trillion theme park the size of San Francisco to some other location that has an income tax.
Disney spent something like $2 billion on Galaxy’s Edge. One part of one theme park. In comparison, Disney’s cash on hand is $9 billion.
What Disney needs, in at least two of the parks, (Hollywood Studios and Magic Kingdom) are new, large scale live shows, similar to Lion King and Nemo/Dory in Animal Kingdom. Such shows absorb large numbers of guest at one time and would greatly contribute to crowd management at the two most crowded parks at WDW. While Hollywood Studios currently has three large scale live shows plus Famtasmic it also has some of the longest wait times on a routine basis. Shows based on Coco and Encanto would seem like obvious choices for dedicated, high capacity theatre based performances. Lion King currently has eight perfomances per day, Nemo six performances accounting for approximately 3000 guests at a time from the general park poulation for each performance. Add one or two new shows with similar capacities to each park and guest satisfaction levels could only go up.
Disney paid $1 dollar a year to the old board members of the RCID. God knows DeSantis is lining the pockets of the new appointed board members that donated to him now a 6 figure plus salerly. All courtesy of Florida taxpayers.
Just stop it with the non-sense. My company’s board is appointed by the Florida Governor, currently DeSantis. No state agency government board is a paid position. They are nominated by a 3rd party within the industry and the governor, whoever that is at the time, approves them. Disney is playing nice cause they know they can’t change it (or they don’t want anyone looking hard at the books) and want favorable appointees and those that aren’t, they want them to view them as adversaries. It’s corporate politics and that is it.
Nice…. 😉 Tom Becker deleting my factual comment about who appoints Florida government board members while allowing conspiracy theorists to keep theirs up. Educate yourself. Fact is, state government boards are nominated by 3rd party entities and the governor approved them as such. Florida Sunshine Laws are the most open FOI laws in the country, especially compared to California. Try it some time, our Governor doesn’t hide out getting a tan in Mexico while our state suffers…
Just stop with the nonsense. It’s the ridiculous structure of the internet and not Tom Bricker’s hatred of on-topic armchair Imagineering that makes several people’s posts appear for two minutes, disappear for a few hours, then reappear later. For crying out loud, Disney is still reliant on the Go.com infrastructure in 2023!
If I didn’t know that, I would apologize once I found out differently.
Aaron is correct that this site has caching issues that makes comments and content disappear and reappear. I don’t know why it happens, but it’s a tradeoff that I okayed to improve the site’s load speed.
That’s not what happened here, though. Comments also get flagged for moderation (often for reasons beyond me), which requires my approval. I don’t just sit at my computer or phone all day, so sometimes that can take several hours to do. I’ve approved every comment but one on this post, and the one that didn’t get approved was a one-line insult towards another commenter.
Jaimie, you are write about these being unpaid positions, but wrong about the nominations process for the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. The governor makes the nominations, and it is Florida’s State Senate that has the final confirmation power. This first set of board members are all political allies and or/campaign donors connected to Desantis.
Is there any reason to believe that Disney has permanently ruled out legal action re: RCID? Sometimes a gun is more effective when you haven’t fired it yet.
I agree they are probably taking a wait and see attitude on Reedy Creek. So long as the new board doesn’t interfere with operations, it’s probably not worth poking the bear.
That said, DeSantis has all but threatened to use the new board as a cudgel to further rile up his base and keep fighting culture wars nobody actually wants. This includes using it to punish WDW if Disney makes content (even if it has nothing to do with the parks) that he seems as too “woke” such as a show that accurately discusses history or features LGBT characters in a positive light. Disney execs might be trying to minimize it, but I bet that they have lawyers ready to go if DeSantis tries something.
I hope it’s the tip of the iceberg but honestly it’s taking them probably 2 years just to retheme splash mountain so I don’t have high hopes.
On the other topic – I hope the new reedy creek thing doesn’t affect anything with the parks that the “guests “ would notice.
As long as Disney and the state can manage to play nice with one another, I don’t think there will be any impact. Obviously, that’s what Disney is betting on–and they will likely do their part to ensure that the relationship is repaired.
Color me a skeptic, but I see these new appointees as nothing more than a chance for the graft and corruption of Miami to take the Brightline high speed rail up to Orlando.
Tom, I sincerely hope you’re right. It would be nice to fester and theorize about POSITIVE changes coming instead of complaining and lamenting all the things that are gone, never materialized, or are now behind a paywall. I want to be excited about new lands let loose, new DVC resorts, Skyliner expansions (pretty please! Have you heard ANYTHING?) and whatever Blue Sky they can get operational in under a decade.
And I agree with you about Reedy Creek. Scary with DeSantis, but starting a culture war with Fox, et al., would not help anything. Just hope it doesn’t cause things to suck down the line.
Wonder if the bullish outlook from the Street on parks gives D’Amaro an edge in the search for the next CEO.
We did our WDW Tron Preview yesterday (well hubby did, I’m too scared to go and little one was too short) and hubby said it was the best roller coaster he has ever been on. That’s the kind of focus Disney needs to have. We also went to Cinderella’s Royal Table and I was very pleasantly surprised that the food quality and magical experience had returned, to a degree. The food quality the last 5 years has been on a huge decline so it coming back a bit was a happy surprise.
My DVC taxes stayed flat this year but maintenance went up, which is to be expected. But I do struggle to figure out where the nearly $1billion in government bonds was spent considering the price hikes with lower services of recent and that we pay for most of the taxes for the resort. (Executive pay and Board perks?) I think it was more Disney didn’t want the state digging into the books of where the money actually was spent vs not wanting to be a political pinata during a charged political environment. There is some shady stuff going on. What’s up with that 2 story mound of dirt dug up 4 years ago in the middle of the MK parking lot that went dormant? I was hoping for one of those fancy parking garages like at Downtown Disney, sorry Disney Springs…but nothing now? Back to Tron, great roller coaster but tone deaf when it comes to filtering out who can actually fit on the ride. While in line we spotted ahead of us what I thought was a photo op of Tron bikes, but as we inched closer it was “test to see if you fit” bikes. There were several disabled scooter riding people and obviously obese people being sent over to the test bikes to see if they cleared, in front of hundreds standing in line. Most were directed to the exit meaning they couldn’t fit, in front of us all. How embarrassing for the guests and Disney. Some people got out of line to try to get their pictures taken on the Tron test bikes before CMs tried their best to gently move them along. I know this is what the preview phase is for, to see what works and doesn’t, but I hope they figure out a more discreet way to kick people off the ride. Also, add high powered fans to the queue line. It is a concrete jungle and blazing hot, worse than Slinky Dog.
In short, pay customer-facing CMs more, eliminate most of the exhorbrent Board perks and slash executive pay especially that which is tied to short term stock performance.
I think the stated intention is sincere. Universal’s Epic expansion can’t go unanswered since a third park over there has the potential to lure visitors away for entire weeks, rather than just days.