The Reedy Creek Improvement District: Disney’s Government

Disney World is twice the size of Manhattan. It offers four theme parks, two water parks,
over twenty resorts, and a downtown shopping district. Sometimes it feels like Disney World is its
own small country. So it’s no surprise to learn that Walt Disney
World has its own government. It’s called the Reedy Creek Improvement
District. How did it come about, why did it come about,
and should it continue to exist? Back in May of 1967, Florida Governor Claude
Kirk Jr signed new chapters of the Laws of Florida that simultaneously created the city
of Bay Lake, the city of Reedy Creek, and the Reedy Creek Improvement District which
would hold jurisdiction over both. This district has far more governing power
than normal, allowing for their own building codes, called the EPCOT codes. The district is also responsible for running
their own services, such as fire stations, EMS, power distribution, water treatment,
waste disposal, and road maintenance. The Reedy Creek Improvement District is able
to fund these services through taxing the landowners within the district, which happens
to be Disney. This means that Disney is largely able to
fund the services that are crucial to the operation of Walt Disney World without placing
the financial burden onto the other taxpayers of central Florida. The district is governed by a five person
board of supervisors who are elected into their position by the landowners within the
district. Who again, is Disney. Or specifically, it’s a set of trusted and
loyal residents that Disney allows to live on property. This means that Disney is able to elect a
board who will govern the district in a way that benefits their needs as a resort. On paper, Disney and the Reedy Creek Improvement
District are two separate entities, but realistically speaking, they’re one in the same. The district was designed by Disney to operate
in a way such that Disney would be able to steer its direction unopposed. So why did they go through all that trouble? Afterall, Disneyland doesn’t need its own
government to be successful. Universal Studios Florida doesn’t. So why does Disney World? Well it’s rooted in the original plans for
all of the land Disney bought up in secret: EPCOT. Walt had dreams of a functional city of the
future that would act as an example for the rest of the world to follow. It was an idea born of the mid 1960s, when
cities in America were facing a rise in crime and a drop in quality of life. EPCOT was meant to be a cutting edge city
that would constantly be upgraded to showcase and utilize new and exciting technology. It would take advantage of new construction
techniques, new modes of transportation, and new methods of education for its younger residents. All of this had Walt worried that the red
tape of old bureaucratic building codes and construction regulations would slow down that
progress and at times put a stop to it. He obviously wanted everything to be safe,
but they wanted to go about it the Disney way. So by forming the Reedy Creek Improvement
District, Disney would have more than anything else, the freedom to develop EPCOT how they
saw fit. Unfortunately Walt Disney would pass away
in December of 1966, before he could realize his dream of EPCOT. Not only America, but most of the world, was
in shock at the sudden loss of Walt. He had been the face and voice of a studio
that created classics for decades. To many he was “Uncle Walt”, and a face
they had come to see on TV every week during the Disneyland TV show. The world lost a beloved icon that December,
and I mention all of this because I believe it was significant to what would happen next. Walt’s brother Roy would ultimately decide
to lead the company and move forward with the plans for Disney World, which would be
renamed to Walt Disney World. Internally there was hesitation as to whether
or not Walt’s dream city of the future was still possible, but externally the company
was dedicated to making EPCOT a reality. In order to do that though, they needed the
freedom that the Reedy Creek Improvement District would bring, and so it was petitioned to Governor
Claude Kirk Jr. Now for a moment let’s put ourselves in
his shoes. Disney has approached us with plans to build
a cutting edge city of the future dreamed up by the very man who came up with Tomorrowland. Florida, which at the time wasn’t the tourism
heavy hitter it is today, had the opportunity of being the home of a city that the rest
of the world would look to for inspiration at a time where city life was gaining an especially
bad reputation. It would bring with it hundreds of millions
of dollars of investment to the state not to mention tens of thousands of jobs and multiple
industries for EPCOT’s industrial park. All Disney asked for in return was a specially
legislated district to get the job done. While the combination of powers was new, no
individual power granted to the district would be uncharted territory for Florida. Lastly, the whole country was still facing
the shock of losing the American icon behind it all, the near universally loved Walt Disney. It seemed like a no brainer, and so it’s
no surprise that the legislation passed. It passed unanimously without any debate in
the Florida senate, and only saw one “no” vote in the house. The promise of an ideal city at a time when
the US needed it, the shock of losing an American legend, and the promise of economic prosperity
for Florida created a perfect storm that gave birth to the Reedy Creek Improvement District. It’s history leaves us with numerous questions. For one, should the Reedy Creek Improvement
District still exist today? The dream of EPCOT the city is long gone,
and it’s clear that Disney intends to keep the property mostly as a vacation resort. They even went as far as to deannex the town
of Celebration in the 1990’s in order to make sure they didn’t lose any power over
the district. So why should Disney continue to have the
freedom that the district brings? Yet on the other hand, the district continues
to allow Disney to shoulder the tax burden of the various departments that service the
resort, and Disney’s record for safety is exemplary, so perhaps it’s easier to just
leave it as-is. It also raises the question of whether or
not we could ever see something like this happen again. In today’s world I think it’s safe to
say there is no one public figure so universally loved as Walt Disney was at the time. We’re far more distrusting of corporations
than we were fifty years ago, and while less developed areas might welcome the attention
a company like Disney may bring, would a modern state’s government grant them that much
power without question? I suspect the answer to that is no. I believe that the Reedy Creek Improvement
District is a product of its time, and just one more reason why Walt Disney World stands
out as a unique and one-of-a-kind experience.

Stephen Childs


  1. …just when I thought I knew everything about Disney! haha Love your videos Rob!!!!!!! Also, in case you haven't heard about this yet, here you go! https://www.omaze.com/experiences/Disney-Cinderellas-Castle

  2. I think Esmeralda, Megara, and Vanellope should be added to the Disney Princess line. Why haven't they been added yet, and do you think they ever will?

  3. Hey Rob! Where do you draw the line with IPs? Is there a point where you wouldn't even consider going to that attraction twice?

  4. Really interesting video! I agree that modern-day states wouldn't allow the creation of a new district and governing body for an ideal city, but I'm not so sure that they wouldn't allow it for something purely recreational. I think that poorer areas might be excited for the chance for economic growth, and campaigning for a separate district on the basis of removing the tax burden of upkeep from the citizens would sway public opinion positively.

  5. Rob: I've actually written school papers about RCID, including my 4,000 word high school capstone.
    For your next book review video, I suggest the following:
    "Marries to the Mouse" by Richard Foglesong (Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando https://www.amazon.com/dp/0300098286/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_H-Z5zb1S3XCYV)
    "Team Rodent" by Carl Hiaassen of the Miami Herald Team Rodent : How Disney Devours the World (https://www.amazon.com/dp/0345422805/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_pa05zb5DKXGE6)
    "Project Future" by Chad Denver Emerson (Project Future: The Inside Story Behind the Creation of Disney World https://www.amazon.com/dp/B003UV98AE/ref=cm_sw_r_cp_apa_jb05zbBMKV4E7)

  6. Great video Rob, if only Anaheim City Council were replaced with a Reedy Creek Improvement District setup! Alas, the city council seem to forget that without Disneyland, Anaheim wouldn't have become a major tourist and business centre.

    Personally, when you've got a company like Disney that are only going to better the community infrastructure, it's much better to work with them, than make them jump through hoops and come up with a "Frankenstein Monster" of a proposal like the Eastern Gateway Project.

  7. I love that you upload so early, I look forward to watching your videos before class!

  8. Wonderful as always Rob, I don't think Disney will give up the amount of autonomy that they have because then they don't have to campaign politicians, but I also don't think any modern state would give someone such full autonomy over an area in today's world

  9. Great video, it would be very interesting to hear more about the other residents who live in the district.

  10. Hey Rob! Great video! I tried to get here as early as possible so you could see my comment. Please read the whole thing:

    So in your Disneyland vs DW video I noticed you said that if you want rides more than anything, go to Disney World. Sorry, but being someone that goes to both parks regularly, I disagree.

    I'm a theme park ride guy. I go with the sole purpose of going on nicely themed Disney theme park rides. My opinion? Disneyland is WAAAAY better for people like me. and for two major reasons:
    1. They have more rides and ALL of them are great quality.
    2. It's a lot more compact over there so you can just walk straight form attraction to attraction and not have to worry about getting on Monorails going through security again, ect.
    You want rides? Disneyland wins by far.

    Just my opinion Rob, great video as always!

  11. You left out the coolest thing the RCID can do. It can build its own nuclear power plant! Of course it would have to abide by all the new regs that have been implemented since then.

    But while I doubt anything like RIDC would pass today there are other "Improvement Districts" in the area. There is one maybe 2 covering I drive, one I think is just for the I Drive trolley. These Districts are set up when some governing body, aka something who can tax something, has to cover more than one city or municipality.

  12. The one thing I've never been able to figure out was why the RCID was divided into two cities rather than one. It seems somewhat arbitrary. Maybe it was supposed to be one city for EPCOT itself and one for the corporate side's operations? In practice the mailing address is in Lake Buena Vista but most of the resort is in Bay Lake.

  13. I recently figured out that there are, I think, about five sovereign states with less land area than Walt Disney World.

  14. While I basically knew most of this already, I totally agree with your view on it. It's good for the company but it would be a highly unusual thing to see happen again.

  15. I think Disney would terminate it if they were loosing a lot of money that they would rather spend on something other than taxes

  16. I always thought it was a play on the word "greedy" but Walt didn't want to tip his hand. LoL. Disney absolutely knew he would have to jump too many hoops if he didn't go this route. Kinda beat the politics by making him the President of his own land. Huge forward thinking. Saved Disney billions by now. No doubt.

    Now my issue with this idea today, those multi-million dollar homes. Wonder if Florida will be keen on those. Still only a few on property but we know those will grow in number. Kinda hidden out of sight but they are there.

    Great video !!

  17. Really interesting video Rob. I think Disney has a similar but different deal in Paris where they have developed a city called val d'europe alongside Disneyland Paris

  18. The Villages area in Florida which is mostly retired people also has some special circumstances as well.

  19. Just when I think I know all there is to know about WDW, Rob drops another video and I learn something new! Great video and thank you for this new (to me) information! 💖🏰°o°

  20. Great vid! I think you are right, RCID is a right place, right time type of event, and I'm glad it happened and continues to flourish. It is impressive how Disney has continued to be responsible with all of the politcal power and oversight it has been given. I am not sure any other corporation would have been able to handle is as Disney has.

  21. Hey rob! I have a question. I've been watching older Mickey Mouse shorts and a lot of them involve the name Ajax. In one short, Mickey, goofy and Donald create the Ajax Ghost Exterminators. In another, there is a killer gorilla with the name of Ajax. There are other examples of the use of this name as well. What is the significance of this name regarding the Disney company? Thanks rob and have a magical day!

  22. I love your videos! Do you think you’ll make a video about Celebration Florida one day?

  23. Disneyland just gets its own exit and property, but DISNEYWORLD GETS HIGHWAYS,THEME MINIPARKS AND MORE!

  24. It seems like Amazon could be granted RCID-level power in the really “business-friendly” states. If I recall correctly, I think a town somewhere in Georgia? deannexed a portion of itself, incorporated that new land, gave all of it to Amazon, and appointed Jeff Bezos mayor for life. The promise of billions of investment and 50,000 jobs is just too much for anywhere to ignore and those numbers seem to be enough to get the public to give a corporation a pass.

  25. Interestingly, the lengths Walt went to in order to secretly acquire the land for Disney World is very similar, if not the same tactic-wise to what was done by the Pennsylvania Railroad in the early 1900s-19-teens to acquire the land in Manhattan needed to build the original Penn Station – the secrecy, dummy companies/names, etc… and for the same reason (acquiring the prices cheaper than if they had not disassociated the acquisition with the company buying up the land/they knew who was buying it all up).

  26. I did a search on your channel and could not find one … have you done a video on Celebration? I really like that development. If I were to move back to US that is where I would want to live 😀

  27. There's too much government regulation. We need more Reedy Creeks in the world.

  28. Excellent video, Rob, but never say “Never”. I look at how municipal and state governments are bending over backwards to incentivize Jeff Bezos’ interest in opening a HQ2 for Amazon.
    Bezos is nowhere near as charismatic a public figure as Walt Disney. And yet, Bezos might end up with his own version of Reedy Creek Improvement District in the not too distant future.

  29. Walt's original EPCOT concept is fascinating, but I think the sociopolitical issues of the late 1960s into the 70s were even beyond Disney's handling. I just don't think, realistically, such a big project and a big community could have succeeded. Something along the lines of how Disney got involved in revitalizing the midtown theatre district in New York (which, mind you, was long in the cards before Michael Eisner even saw the crumbling New Amsterdam Theatre) under Walt's guidance, however, probably would have realistically been a success, and a lasting one. Who knows? If Walt hadn't died in 1966 and lived 10-15 more years, maybe he would have gotten involved in that project?

  30. They Deannexed Celebration, but what about Golden Oak? Do those residents have a say in the governance of Reedy Creek?

  31. I'm glad I stumbled upon your video on Celebration, FL — I'm starting to binge watch! I love the information! For some reason, I love the name, Reedy Creek — It's so Walt Disney 🙂

  32. Had someone tell me that the reason RCID is around is bc the amount of land that Disney had required Disney to have fire and police, but I call BS on that bc yes there is fire, but no police other than using Orange County Sheriffs.

  33. Yes the reedy creek improvement district should still exist because it allows Disney world to be unique and allows Disney world to bypass the red tape and build stuff that benefits them quicker than the competition

  34. I didn't even know that disney had his own government, I though that they just bribed the existing one, well I have to say that I have mixed opinion about this, on one hand disney is basically beding the government to their need, but on the other hand they manage their economy and security way better than most cities of the world, I guess if it was my decision I would have give the green light to this too, based on the results. One thing is sure walt was a visionary.

  35. There has been debate in Florida about dissolving Reedy Creek Improvement District since Walt Disney World became so big and popular, but neither the two counties it occupies nor the city of Orlando want to take over. Even arrests and injuries on property have been argued in court on grounds of liability issues and legal standing to both Disney and the people injured or held for arrest. RCID will remain and forever be a unique corporate land control arrangement.

  36. @Rob_Plays Do you know what effect the residents of "Golden Oaks" have on elections in the RCID?

  37. I would imagine the two county governments that would have to step in if RCID disappeared have nightmares about having to absorb all the responsibilities that RCID takes care of for itself. Public works, road construction, police, fire, EMS, a whole mess of inspectors, and can you imagine what a pain zoning meetings would be with Disney having to show up every month to ask for like 5000 permits so they can build a few more bathrooms in the parks?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *