Reedy Creek Improvement District

Have you ever wondered who governs the property of Walt Disney World? For instance, who regulates building codes, constructs roads, provides fire protection, and manages sewage. If your guess is the State of Florida or the counties of Orange and Osceola, you’d be wrong. What is to follow is a brief description of a very interesting, and sometimes controversial agency, the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

As many of you might already know, Disney created a number of dummy corporations in the early 1960’s in order to secretly purchase property in Central Florida. The last thing the company wanted was for the name “Disney” to leak out and drive up prices. For several years, using innocuous names like Tomahawk Properties, Compass East, and Ayefour Corporation (a pun on Interstate 4), Disney was able to purchase a large amount of land very cheaply. Some of these company names can be found on the Main Street Windows in the Magic Kingdom.

In the end, Disney bought approximately 27,000 acres for roughly $5M — an average of $183 an acre. On November 15, 1965, Walt, his brother Roy, and Florida Governor Haydon Burns held a press conference. At that time, Walt told the reporters that he was planning on building a second Disneyland-type amusement park and a “city of tomorrow” on their new land. Immediately, adjacent parcels skyrocketed to $1,000 per acre.

As much of the property was swampland and unsuitable for building, a vast amount of engineering would be required to create usable land. Roads, sewage treatment, and water management were all paramount before other construction projects could begin. Yet, it wasn’t feasible to expect financially weak Orange County or the taxpayers to pay for the job. And the company didn’t have that sort of capital. So Disney petitioned the state and was granted permission to create the Reedy Creek Drainage District which was incorporated on May 13, 1966. This allowed the company to sell tax-exempt bonds to pay for the infrastructure of Walt Disney World.

The company knew that a “drainage district” wasn’t enough if they were to realize all of their plans. Creating a futuristic city would require new and imaginative building techniques. Walt and the Imagineers had grand plans and they did not want to have to deal with out-dated building codes and mountains of local and state red-tape. The company needed autonomy.

Sadly, Walt died on December 15, 1966. Soon after, Roy became president and chairman of the board. One of his first directives was to inform senior management that the building of a futuristic city, to be known as EPCOT, was to be put on permanent hold. The company’s first and only directive was to build the Magic Kingdom , two hotels, and support facilities.

Even with EPCOT out of the picture, Roy still wanted Disney World to be self-governing and didn’t want to be bogged down by local rules and regulations. So the “postponement” of EPCOT was not shared with the press or the Florida legislature and the company continued to advertise its eventual construction. In addition, Roy let lawmakers know that the company could easily walk away from the Florida Project and sell their newly acquired land for a hefty profit if certain demands weren’t met. Whether this was a bluff or not, few know, but the ploy paid off. On May 12, 1967, Governor Claude R. Kirk, Jr. signed a charter creating the Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID). The name “Reedy Creek” comes from the name of a stream that crosses Disney property.

In essence, the 27,000 acres of Walt Disney World became a pseudo-county to be run by the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a wholly owned subsidiary of the Walt Disney Company. It maintains its own building codes and is exempt from state zoning and land use laws. It provides fire protection and medical services. It supports a vast array of utilities including waste water treatment, electric power generation and delivery, natural gas distribution, and more. In addition, most roads on property are built and maintained by RCID. However, the property is subject to all state and local taxes.

Disney has the right to create its own law enforcement agency, but has opted to allow the Highway Patrol and Orange and Osceola County sheriffs deputies to patrol the roads. However, the RCID has a fleet of security vehicles and does also monitor the property.

When arguing for “county” status, Vice President Donn Tatum said that the Improvement District was needed to serve “the needs of those residing there.” But since it would be a number of years before EPCOT was ready for residency (if ever), the cities of Bay Lake and Reedy Creek (now Lake Buena Vista) were incorporated on property.

These two Walt Disney World communities still exist today and are hidden from the general public. The homes are inhabited by Disney employees and according to the 2000 census, Bay Lake had 23 residents and Lake Buena Vista had 16. (And yes, I know where the communities are located, but don’t ask because I won’t tell you. These people deserve their privacy.)

Since the “city” of EPCOT was never built, critics often cry “foul” and demand that Disney relinquish its autonomy. They also claim that it’s a conflict of interest to have RCID owned by the Walt Disney Company. But Disney maintains that the “EPCOT Building Codes,” which have been in place since the Improvement District’s inception, apply to the entire property. In essence, all of Walt Disney World practices and lives by the concepts that Walt envisioned for his futuristic city.

For the most part, utilities, building codes, and protection are a “behind the scenes” aspect of any city. We don’t think about them until we need them. But I think most of us would agree that Disney has done a beautiful job of maintaining their property and meeting the needs of their guests.

For more information about the Reedy Creek Improvement District, check out their website.

In closing, I would like to highlight one of the Reedy Creek Fire Stations. This unique structure is located on Buena Vista Drive, just north of Downtown Disney. Although you can’t go into this building, it is worth a drive by. As always, the Imagineers did an outstanding job. Be sure to notice the giant fire hydrant and hose that creates a nozzle fountain.

Fire Department Sign

Reedy Creek Fire Dept

Reedy Creek Fire Dept

Fire Hydrant and Hose

RCFD Helmet

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23 Replies to “Reedy Creek Improvement District”

  1. Reddy creek Improvement district also has the power of eminant domain. They have used it once on the new neighbor Bonnett Creek (the non- Disney owned Hilton development next door)

  2. Another great article Jack.

    There is a book this covers this in some detail called ‘Married to the Mouse: Walt Disney World and Orlando’. I’ve never actually finished the book as it is quite academic and drags on a bit.

    I also seem to remember a few years ago the residents voting down a proposal to allow the clubs on Pleasure Island to stay open later.

  3. Jack,
    I have been interested in the RCID for anumber of years since I first heard about it in a National Geographic article. You mentioned that FL Highway Patrol and the county sheriffs patrol the roads and deal with speeders…but what about shoplifters. There are a whole lot of stores on Disney property and I’m sure that they have to deal with these and other crimes. Are they prosecuted by the local Attorney General’s Office or is there a “Mouse Court” where Disney prosecutes them? I’m in law enforcement and this kind thing is interesting to me.
    Thanks!

    Jack’s Answer:

    Security guards at Disney World are NOT part of Reedy Creek. I hope I didn’t mislead you to think otherwise.

    The shops in the parks and resorts are routinely patrolled by plain clothed security guards. They are very inconspicuous. If someone is caught shoplifting, they will be escorted backstage to a security center. If law enforcement is brought in, it will be the Orange or Osceola sheriff.

  4. Jack,
    Wonderful blog! I’ve recently rediscovered my fascination with all things Disney and the genius of Walt and Roy, so this was just another piece of the magic that is WDW. Thanks for all you do!

    Lynn

  5. Very cool and interesting info! My friends Dad, a long time patron and fan of WDW, recently dragged out, for me to see, an old news piece he had on VHS tape that he recorded years ago from TV. I cant remember the exact show but I believe it was either 60 min or 20/20. In any event it detailed what you spoke about and the relationship between Disney and RCID. I found it, like your post above very interesting. One of the MOST interesting things I discovered was that they reported that, although never implemented RCID/Disney had reserved the right to implement and use Nuclear power. As I posted in one of your posts from some time ago, It saddens me that the original planned EPCOT/Progress City was never built however it is nice to know that the spirit still lives on VIA RCID and that today if we look hard enough we see bits and pieces that were built and implemented form the original concept and plan!! I think that is nice to know. Thanks!

    Rob

  6. Merry Christmas from Buenos Aires Jack!! Wow i had no idea about the Reedy Creek district!! Thank you for telling us all this interest things!! I tell you is very hot and humid here now. Are you cold?? We are counting the days until January 21st.
    I hope you start 2010 wonderfully and that we can read your articles again and again!!

  7. Responding to your mention of Harbor blvd: I worked in Anaheim throughout 1980s close to Disneyland. Harbor (and you could throw in Katella ave) was indeed an eyesore with rundown motels,streetwalkers,drug scene. Today it is vastly improved with numerous big-name corporate hotels,restaurants, even expensive landscaping up and down both major avenues.

    Jack’s Comment:

    You are absolutely right. When Disney started construction on California Adventure, they urged the City of Anaheim to clean up Harbor and Katella Avenues. And to their credit, they did. The streets are vastly improved from the early years. Thanks for pointing this out.

  8. Jack I love your blogs!

    I had always thought Celebration was the Disney owned land for employees to live in, I guess I’m wrong?….What is the ties with Disney and this town, if any? Thanks!!

    Jack’s Answer:

    Here is a very brief description of Celebration… Disney owned a vast amount of land in Osceola County, south of Interstate 4. For years, they had promised the county that this land would eventually be developed and help the tax base there. But since it was so far removed from the rest of the resort, it was difficult to find a suitable use for the land. So Disney created the community of Celebration. It was a planned development that would include upscale homes, condos, and apartments plus office complexes and shopping. Anyone could buy and live there. But once the development reached a certain level, Disney de-annexed the land as they did not want the residents of Celebration to have voting rights in the Reedy Creek Development District.

  9. This is an extremely interesting article! I knew Disney had alot of control over their Florida property, but didn’t know exactly what that entailed. Thanks for being a great resource for those of us who love this kind of stuff!

  10. Jack you are a fountain of knowledge and I am always captivated by your blogs.

    I too know where the Bay Lake residences are, but would never tell.

    Have a merry, magical and peaceful Christmas.

  11. The Reedy Creek agreement is unprecedented in US land use law. It gives Disney more power than most counties and cities could ever hope for. If Disney were to follow the rules, they could build a nuclear power plant and an airport as large as MCO. They have their own zoning code and development code.

    The residents are hand selected by the company. If a majority of the 47 people wanted to do so, they could take over the government. Disney can even floated government bonds if they wanted to.

    Sam

    Jack’s Comments:

    If you look at some of the early concept drawings for the property, you can see an airport was planned down in Osceola County where Celebration ended up being built.

  12. Jack,

    Thanks for this very interesting blog! I find that some of the most intriguing bits of information about WDW is the unseen stuff; like Reedy Creek. It’s pretty cool to think of WDW as its own little city. I’d love to be one of those lucky cast members who actually get to live at the World. Wow!

    I’m probably confused, but is there another fire station on property that you can go into? If so, what is the difference between the two?

    Have a very merry Christmas, Jack! Your blog is a gift to me all year long.

    -Kirstin

    Jack’s Answer:

    There are four fire stations on property. There is the one I photographed in the blog. Another across the street from the Caribbean Beach Resort, and two backstage behind the Magic Kingdom. To my knowledge, none of these stations are equipped to handle guests.

  13. You don’t have to imagine what would happen if the politicians were in control — just look at Anaheim!

    Jack’s Comment:

    At some point after Disney World was announced, Disney management took the City Fathers of Kissimmee and St. Cloud to Anaheim. Disney showed them Harbor Blvd. and said, “Don’t let this happen to you.” I guess nobody listened because all you have to do is drive down Hwy 192 and it’s simple to see, it’s Harbor Blvd. reincarnated.

  14. Awesome article, Jack! I definitely learned one or two new things from it, which is always great. Thanks for that!

    One quick question: do you know if Disney is subject to all the same federal requirements as everyone else? I imagine they must comply with OSHA, etc., but one rarely hears anythinga about that.

    Jack’s Answer:

    I don’t really have an answer for you when it comes to the Federal Government and Disney. But I do know they must follow OSHA guidelines. For example, OSHA is investigating the monorail accident that occurred a couple of months ago.

  15. I think that it is for the best that Walt Disney control RCID, I mean just imagine if politicians were in control…

    Great article, as always, Jack! Hope your holidays are warm and bright.

    Roger

  16. Jack, thanks for this interesting article. Last time I was at the World, my family noticed the RCID on the manhole covers and wondered what it stood for. They were also curious about who catches speeders and maintains order on the roads. I knew that RCID was the government of the WDW property, but not specifics, and couldn’t answer the question about the road. I’ll be passing this blog along to them! Thanks again, and Merry Christmas!

  17. Jack:

    Thanks for yet another insightful article. For years a rumor has persisted that “somewhere on Disney property” sits a private residence. As the story goes, a lone hold out refused to sell when Disney was acquiring its vast acreage.

    Is there any truth to this? I would venture to guess that in the early days of development, this was possible, particularly if it was far from the Magic Kingdom area where most activity was going on. But I can’t imagine that over 40 days later, it’s still the case.

    Happy New Year!

    Jack’s Answer:

    The story is true. One man owned a number of acres. They sit between the Caribbean Beach Resort and Typhoon Lagoon and are boarded by Interstate 4 and Buena Vista Drive. Disney tried many times to acquire the land, but the man refused to sell. The property sat unused until he died about ten years ago. Then his children started developing the land with hotels and timeshares. Since the only access to the property is via Disney property, this land is serviced by Reedy Creek. I’m sure they pay a fee for these services.

  18. Thank you for writing this fascinating article on Reedy Creek. I never knew there were residences on property. You have me curious. Can you give any more info?

    Jack’s Answer:

    I really told you everything I know about the residences. I know that cast members live there, but I have no idea how they are selected and what sort of rent they pay or how they may be compensated. It’s a mystery to me.