Disney, Florida settle state legal feud over district

Walt Disney and appointees of Florida Governor Ron DeSantis have reached a settlement to end a high-profile lawsuit in state court over control of the special district that includes the Walt Disney World theme parks.

Disney also agreed to drop a lawsuit over access to public records and defer briefings in a federal lawsuit it filed against DeSantis as the two sides try to reach a consensus on a new development agreement for Walt Disney World, among other matters.

"This agreement opens a new chapter of constructive engagement with the new leadership of the district," Walt Disney World president Jeff Vahle said on Wednesday.

DeSantis and Disney, one of Florida's biggest employers, have been embroiled in a dispute since 2022, when former Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticised a state legislative effort to limit classroom discussion of sexuality and gender issues for younger students.

Critics described it as the "Don't Say Gay" law.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis
Governor Ron DeSantis made his clashes with Disney a key part of his presidential campaign. (AP PHOTO)

A Florida board appointed by DeSantis to oversee development around Disney's theme parks sued the company to void "backroom deals" favourable to the entertainment conglomerate.

The clash was a centrepiece of DeSantis' speeches in 2023 as he sought the Republican nomination for US president and bashed the company as "woke Disney".

DeSantis later limited his public attacks on the company and dropped out of the presidential race in January.

DeSantis said the state's actions had been "vindicated".

"A year ago people were trying to act like all these legal manoeuvres were all going to succeed, and the reality is here we are a year later, not one of them has succeeded," he told reporters on Wednesday.

Under the terms of the settlement announced on Wednesday, Disney agreed not to challenge the oversight board's view that the land use plan adopted by the previous board, in the waning days of its oversight of Walt Disney World, is invalid.

That would leave a plan adopted in 2020 as the working blueprint for the Orlando theme parks and retail district.

Members of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District approved the settlement on Wednesday.

The Florida legislature created the Reedy Creek Improvement District in 1967 to promote the development of Walt Disney World on 100 square kilometres of land.

Disney paid taxes to that district, which provided municipal services and exempted it from some regulations.