Reedy Creek begins west of the Bay Lake city limits and the Magic Kingdom. It meanders south through the Disney property and passes between Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Blizzard Beach. After crossing Interstate 4, it exits the Disney property west of the town of Celebration and empties into Lake Russell then continues on southward into Cypress Lake, which is connected to the Kissimmee Chain of Lakes.
The area is managed by the Reedy Creek Improvement District and consists of a 38.6 square mile area within the outer limits of Orange and Osceola counties. It is the governing jurisdiction for the land of the Walt Disney World Resort.
Walt Disney having success with Disneyland in California soon began planning a second park on the East Coast. Disliking the business that had sprung up around Disneyland, he wanted control of a much larger area for his new project. After flying over the Orlando area and learning of the plans to develop Interstate 4 and Florida’s Turnpike, Disney selected a centrally located site near Bay Lake. He used multiple shell companies to buy up the land at very low prices to unknowing landowners. The company names were:
Compass East Corporation
Latin-American Development and Management Corporation
Ayefour Corporation, because of its location to I-4
Tomahawk Properties, Incorporated
Reedy Creek Ranch
Bay Lake Properties, Incorporated
Being fully owned subsidiaries of what is now The Walt Disney Company, on March 11, 1966, these landowners petitioned the court for the creation of the Reedy Creek Drainage District under Florida Statutes, Chapter 298. On May 13, 1966, the Drainage District was incorporated as a public corporation. The Drainage District had the power to condemn and acquire property outside its boundaries “for public use.” It used this power to obtain the Bonnet Creek, Canal C-1 land. That land is now being developed as the Bonnet Creek Resort, a non-Disney resort.
Wanting more independence to develop his ideas, through the Disney Company, Disney petitioned the Florida State Legislature for the creation of the Reedy Creek Improvement District. That entity would have almost total autonomy within its borders. Orange and Osceola County residents would not have to pay any taxes unless they were residents of the district. The district would oversee the following services:
Land use regulation and planning
Surface water control
Waste treatment and utilities
Roads and bridges
Fire protection and emergency medical services
Leaving the only areas where the district had to submit to the county and state would be property taxes and elevator inspections. He used his plans for EPCOT, the Experimental Prototype Community of Tomorrow, the futuristic Progress City as part of his lobbying effort.
Governor Claude R. Kirk, Jr. signed the following statutes to implement Disney’s plan on May 12, 1967:
Chapter 67-764 created the Reedy Creek Improvement District
Chapter 67-1104 established the City of Bay Lake; and
Chapter 67-1965 established the City of Reedy Creek. Around 1970 it was renamed the City of Lake Buena Vista.
With the recreation of the RCID, Disney now controlled the town of Celebration. The town had been built with many of his original ideas that evolved into a form of New Urbanism. Ultimately, it was no longer annexed to Bay Lake or the District. Celebration is now unincorporated land within Osceola County, with a thin strip that contains canals and other land uses still incorporated.
In November 1968, the Florida Supreme Court held that the Improvement District did not “violate any provision of the Constitution of Florida.” Further, it declared that the District was exempt from all state land use regulation laws “now or hereafter enacted.”
Once Walt Disney died in 1966, the Board of Directors of the Disney Company no longer wanted to be in the business of running a city and abandoned much of the Progress City ideas. Planned residential areas were never built. By remaining in complete control of the District, many feel Disney is abusing its powers.