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Tourism district considers $100M in Disney World road upgrades

Skyler Swisher, Orlando Sentinel on

Published in News & Features

As political tensions ease, Florida’s tourism oversight district is considering a nearly $100 million plan to upgrade bridges and roads at the Disney World resort.

The Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s board voted Wednesday to explore issuing bonds for six transportation projects by autumn.

The project list includes the third phase of the World Drive North improvement plan, which involves the construction of 1.6 miles of four-lane road. Funds would also go to replace aging bridges, widen Western Way, resurface roads and improve interchanges.

“It’s great we are able to take a positive step,” said Charbel Barakat, acting chairman of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District’s Board of Supervisors.

The transportation upgrades come as Disney plans what one executive said would “probably be the largest expansion ever” of the Magic Kingdom. Details are thin on the project dubbed “beyond Big Thunder,” but it’s expected to involve about 11 or 12 acres of land.

Meanwhile, Disney’s competitor, Universal Orlando, is expected to open a new theme park, Epic Universe, next year.

Disney: Big Magic Kingdom expansion is in the works


In the past, the Gov. Ron DeSantis-appointed tourism oversight board directed fiery rhetoric at Disney as the two sides tussled in court. But as of late, the meetings have focused on the nuts and bolts of running the special district, which oversees fire protection, transportation and other key government services for Disney World.

Disney and the district settled a lawsuit over development agreements in March. The settlement said development agreements and covenants approved by a Disney-friendly board shortly before the state takeover are null and void.

A federal lawsuit filed by Disney is still pending. At its meeting Wednesday, the oversight board approved new regulations for adopting development agreements, setting the stage for a new plan to be brokered with Disney. Disney officials did not respond to an email seeking comment about the new regulations.

Disney is working with new leadership at the district, which DeSantis seized control of in February 2023 after the Legislature gave him the power to appoint its five board members. For decades before that, Disney essentially self-governed the district because it elected the board.

Stephanie Kopelousos, a top DeSantis adviser who worked as his legislative affairs director, replaced another DeSantis ally, Glen Gilzean, as the district’s administrator. Her background includes stints as Clay County manager and secretary of the Florida Department of Transportation.

Board Chairman Martin Garcia also resigned from his leadership post. DeSantis appointed Orlando businessman Craig Mateer to the board, but a new chairman has not yet been selected.

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