A Private Government: Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District

When Walt Disney conceived his theme park that would be built in Florida, he imagined, among other things, that there would be a real, functioning city with the most current technological capabilities.

If a functioning city would indeed be built, there would need to be a governing body who would control all public services including building codes, land use, environmental protection, and safety plans like a fire department, street lighting, roadways, garbage collection, water services, and tax imposition.

In order to provide all of these services to the people living within the EPCOT community, the Disney company decided to create an improvement district.

The Reedy Creek Improvement District (RCID) is named after Reedy Creek, a natural waterway that runs between Disney’s Animal Kingdom and Blizzard Beach, past Magic Kingdom, and into Bay Lake.  The improvement district was created on May 12, 1967- just five months after Walt’s passing.

Even though EPCOT didn’t turn out to be exactly what Walt had in mind, the RCID is still an essential part of Disney World.

Disney property actually sits on property from two counties: Orange County (18,000 acres) and Osceola County (6,200 acres). If RCID didn’t exist, simple and essential things like building connecting roadways would be difficult. Instead, the RCID works like a separate county giving them complete jurisdiction over the area.

What’s more, Disney has been able to build and maintain the required public services and infrastructure including spending over $100 million on 167 miles of road with no help from county, state, or federal monies. If RCID didn’t exist, taxpayers would be burdened with this cost. Disney also paid for the traffic controls at 535 when the Crossroads Complex opened because it impacted traffic going in and out of Disney property.

Disney's Reedy Creek Improvement District is like a private government.
Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District is like a private government.

The Governing Body

The RCID is made up of five board members – real people – who meet monthly. These board members, who are executive employees of Disney Company, must be landowners, so Disney sells them each a five-acre undeveloped plot of land that they sell back to Disney when their term ends. The land is located in the Bay Lake community. Since RCID uses majority rule for property owners and votes are based on how much land is owned, Disney essentially governs its own property.

This governing body can impose taxes, adopt ordinances, contract services, and provide pest control. The RCID also approves any and all building applications. When Disney World files a building plan with the RCID, there isn’t really a question of whether it will be approved because of the majority rule.

The Tale of Two Cities

Within the limits of the RCID, there are actually two incorporated cities: Lake Buena Vista (formerly Reedy Creek) and Bay Lake. Each of these areas, tucked away behind security gates and creative landscaping, house several families. The residents are Disney employees and their immediate families who don’t own land but pay very affordable rent to Disney Company.

According to the most current census in 2000, there were 16 people living in Lake Buena Vista and 47 people living in Bay Lake in 2010.

When Celebration, Florida was built in 1994, it was de-annexed so that Disney Company would not lose its governing powers through dilution of voting rights.

Requirements and Advancements

Because of the existence of the RCID, Disney Company has been able to accomplish engineering feats beyond compare and regulate safety measures that have made these feats possible.

Cinderella Castle, made with a lot of fiberglass, uses an advanced system of sprinklers and computer-automated smoke detectors with flame-retardants to keep the very combustible material from catching fire. Many of Disney’s buildings have heat detectors in addition to smoke detectors that can notify the fire department, also part of the RCID, before a fire even occurs. The average response time of the Reedy Creek Fire Department is an amazing 45 seconds!

Magic Kingdom was the first location in the United States to use the Automated Vacuum Assisted Collection system built in Sweden. There are 17 collection points around Magic Kingdom, and every 15 minutes, trash is sucked through 24″ tubes at 60mph to a central compactor located behind Splash Mountain where it is sorted and taken to a waste facility.

Disney was also the first company to use fiber optic telephone for its Vista United Telecommunications in 1978 and the first Florida telephone company to employ the use of 911. In 1983, this telephone network became the first digital switching network.

Another engineering feat Disney used had to do with the building of Disney’s Polynesian Resort and Disney’s Contemporary Resort. Each one of these steel-constructed hotel rooms was built about six miles away, trucked in, and set in place with plumbing and wiring already inside.

These are just a few of the accomplishments Disney has made because it is its own governing body!

What’s next?

With a few hundred employees dedicated to water testing and treatment, environmental concerns, electric power generating, and recycling, the RCID is prepared for further development.

Disney is always applying for new building permits, and RCID will continue to approve them.

Does Disney’s private government give it an unfair advantage?