Walt Disney Parks and Resorts received the green light on $17 billion in development plans in and around Walt Disney World in Orange County, Fla,, garnering approval June 12 from the board of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District (CFTOD) for its sprawling capital plan. 

The development agreement was unanimously approved after a second reading June 12 by the CFTOD—formerly the Reedy Creek Improvement District—a local special taxing district that acts akin to a county government overseeing the 24,000-acre area covered by Disney property. The district ensures that it—and not local landowners—pay for municipal services like water, power and roads. 

Light on details for specific construction, the agreement’s aim is to ensure that Disney’s development planning coincides with CFTOD’s comprehensive planning process, requiring the District to update its comprehensive plan to account for the development program outlined in the agreement by the third quarter of 2025. 

The plan does, however, include a commitment from Disney for an initial $8-billion capital investment over the next 10 years and requires it to donate up to a maximum 100 acres of land under its ownership or control that will be required for public improvements by the District. 

Covering 17,000 acres, the agreement includes proposed roadway and other infrastructure improvements planned for the next several years. It requires at least 50% of goods and services related to design, development and construction to go to Florida businesses. As part of the agreement, Disney will also commit a minimum of $10 million to affordable housing efforts in the next 10 years.

The agreement allows for types of development currently approved under the District’s comprehensive plan, including hotel/motel, office, retail/restaurant, major theme park and minor theme park. 

While the news sparked speculation that Disney is building a fifth theme park at Walt Disney World, the agreement doesn’t list or prohibit a new park, but “is intended to specify an orderly process for the approval of a development program and corresponding public infrastructure commitments to support the development of the Project as well as certain economic development terms to benefit the surrounding community.”

However, under the current approved comprehensive plan, the agreement notes, is approval for five major theme parks and five minor theme parks, though only four and three, respectively, have been developed to date. 

The plan states that public facilities like transportation, sanitary sewer and water systems are to be funded, designed and constructed by CFTOD. An included capital improvement schedule shows projects that fall under that umbrella, including multiple projects set for completion in the next few years. 

A four-lane divided rural roadway dubbed World Drive North Phase 3—extending from World Drive North Phase 2 to Floridian Place and including utility relocations and other related work—is listed with a desired completion date of 2026. 

A widening of a four-lane road to six lanes is targeted for a 2031 completion, intersection improvements along Buena Vista Drive and dedicated bus lanes for the roadway are set for 2030 and 2032 completions, respectively. 

Other planned projects include expansions and improvements at water, solid waste, stormwater and sanitary facilities, including a 2026 target date for a new master plan for stormwater improvements. 

The agreement also gives Disney some leeway to convert hotel land use entitlements to add up to 225,000 sq ft of office uses and gives Disney control over building heights due to the “unique nature of the buildings and attractions that constitute a theme park.”

Plans in Florida come on the heels of other Disney development efforts elsewhere, such as the estimated $2.5-billion DisneyLandForward plan to expand Disneyland Resort in California. In September, Disney announced a 10-year investment plan of $60 billion globally for theme parks and cruise lines, nearly double its investment of the previous 10 years, according to the AP.

Several local businesses spoke in favor of the agreement at the June 5 and June 12 meetings, including owners and representatives of businesses in Disney Springs like Wine Bar George owner George Miliotis and Planet Hollywood CEO Robert Earl. 

Robert Agrusa, president and CEO of the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association, expressed his enthusiastic support for the project, saying it’s no secret that Disney is the economic engine for Central Florida, including the almost 450,000 hospitality employees in the area which make up 40% of its workforce.

The agreement also serves as the definitive end of legal disputes between Disney and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis arising from Florida Republicans’ actions in creating the DeSantis-appointed CFOTD after passing a law revoking Disney’s self-governing status, which followed Disney’s opposition of the state’s so-called “Don’t Say Gay” law that restricts how sexual orientation and gender identity are discussed in schools.  

Disney challenged the board overhaul in court but lost and appealed. While both parties reached a settlement in March to effectively end the dispute, per the AP, the appeal has now been scrapped thanks to the development agreement. 

In a June 13 filing, the day after the approval of the development agreement, Disney states, “Based on the new Development Agreement between appellant Walt Disney Parks and Resorts … and appellee Central Florida Oversight Tourism Oversight District, Disney has agreed to dismiss the above-captioned appeal.”