The great Disney World vs. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis War has seen plenty of twists and turns, but here’s one that invokes the British Royal Family.
In February, the Florida House of Representatives passed a bill to take control Disney World’s special tax district, ending decades of Walt Disney Corp. operating the park under a self-governance status. However, according to the Orlando Sentinel, on February 8 — the day before the legislature would install the DeSantis-appointed “Central Florida Tourism Oversight District” — the board of the Disney tax district executed a power move worthy of the House Tyrell.
It approved a 30-year development agreement that effectively renders the CFTOD powerless, according to its attorneys. Under the agreement, Disney can build high-density projects and buildings of any height and sell or assign development rights, all without board approval. It even bans the board from using the Disney name or “fanciful characters such as Mickey Mouse.”
“Game of Thrones” is a fantasy show (and one that doesn’t belong to Disney), but the studio went so far as to bring in real-life royalty into its plan with a clause that declares the agreement valid until “21 years after the death of the last survivor of the descendants of King Charles III, king of England.” In lay terms, the CFTOD board would need to wait out the lifespans of King Charles, his sons William and Harry, five grandchildren, and any other progeny — and then wait 21 years — for the agreement to expire.
Is the Royal Family’s bloodline Disney’s very bizarre way of nodding to the Magic Kingdom and its lucrative Disney Princesses? Maybe! (Disney did not respond to an email seeking comment.) The Royal Lives clause is a contractual clause that dates back to 1692 Britain, and is most often used in the UK; in the states, it’s more often utilized as the Presidents’ Lives clause.
It’s most commonly seen in trusts as a way to avoid rules against perpetuities in common law. The “21 years later” timeline comes from the stipulation that legal documents transferring property ownership are void 21 years after the death of its primary recipient. The Royal Lives clause lets attorneys establish a window of time that would never expire.
According to an unsigned statement from Disney obtained by the Sentinel: “All agreements signed between Disney and the district were appropriate and were discussed and approved in open, noticed public forums in compliance with Florida’s Government in the Sunshine law.”
Disney’s development agreement is certainly a creative way to block DeSantis and his board, but they are not amused. According to the Sentinel, the district’s lawyers gave a legal presentation March 29 announcing that they would bring legal action against Disney.
“We’re going to have to deal with it and correct it,” board member Brian Aungst Jr. said during the presentation, according to the Sentinel. “It’s a subversion of the will of the voters and the Legislature and the governor. It completely circumvents the authority of this board to govern.”
The legal spat between Disney and Florida began a year ago when Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek criticized the DeSantis’ Parental Rights in Education Law, which forbids discussion of sexual orientation or gender identity in schools. Chapek initially stayed silent on the so-called “Don’t Say Gay” bill and only publicly opposed it after employees staged walkouts. The reversal led DeSantis to repeal the act that permitted DisneyWorld’s self governance, which was first established in 1967.
Disney didn’t retain all of their rights. According to the Sentinel, Disney will no longer be able to tax itself to cover park services — the primary point of contention in DeSantis’ bid to seize control of the district. Even royal intrigue has its limits.