Walt Disney World
The Walt Disney World resort AFP

Florida authorities have unanimously approved a plan by Walt Disney World to invest $17 billion in a multi-year development plan as tensions between the parties subside following an extended dispute.

Concretely, the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District board allowed for the company to embark on the 15-year project without the interference from state politicians. It involves the building of a fifth major theme park and two additional minor ones, as well as increasing its hotel capacity by over 25% to some 53,000 rooms and retail and restaurant space by more than 20%.

The approval comes after two years of litigation, which put the company at the center of the state's cultural clash with the Ron DeSantis administration over its opposition to a law known as "Don't Say Gay" bill, which passed through the local Senate at the time.

The law, which banned classroom lessons on sexual orientation and gender identity in early grades, was championed by the Republican governor, who criticized Disney in his speeches until he suspended his presidential campaign earlier this year.

In retaliation to Disney's stance against the controversial law, DeSantis enacted legislation to take over the governing district and appointed a new board of supervisors. Disney responded by suing DeSantis and his appointees, alleging that the company's free speech rights were violated. Although a federal judge dismissed this lawsuit in January, Disney appealed the decision.

The parties reached a settlement in March, after which Disney agreed to put the appeal on hold. Three months later, the company has been given the green light to pursue the development plan, which also requires Disney to donate up to 100 acres of its 24,000-acre property for district-controlled infrastructure projects.

Additionally, Disney must ensure that at least half of its construction projects are awarded to Florida-based companies and allocate a minimum of $10 million for affordable housing in central Florida.

Disney estimates the investment will create some 13,000 new jobs and thousands of indirect ones. Walt Disney World Resort president Jeff Vahle said in a statement reported by Axios that the plan will support "the growth of this global destination, fueling the Florida economy" and allow "us to deliver even more memorable and extraordinary experiences for our guests."

One of the other end, Brian Aungst, a member of the five-person district board, said that "Walt Disney World is inextricably intertwined in the fabric of the state of Florida, and the success of Walt Disney World is the success of Central Florida and vice versa."

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