The story of the Reedy Creek Improvement District is a unique story about business and government working as partners to solve problems that neither side could solve on its own.
In the mid-1960s, the Walt Disney World Company proposed building a recreation-oriented development on 25,000 acres of property in Central Florida. The property sat in a remote area of Orange and Osceola County, so secluded that the nearest power and water lines were 10-15 miles away. Neither Orange nor Osceola County had the services or the resources needed to bring the project to life.
The predicament was resolved in 1967 when the Florida State legislature, working with Walt Disney World Company, created a special taxing district – called the Reedy Creek Improvement District – that would act with the same authority and responsibility as a county government.
The new legislation said that landowners within the Reedy Creek Improvement District, primarily Walt Disney World, would be solely responsible for paying the cost of providing typical municipal services like power, water, roads, fire protection etc.
Local taxpayers, meaning residents of Orange and Osceola County, would not have to pay for building or maintaining those services.
This allowed Walt Disney World to move ahead with its vision to turn 38.5 square miles of largely uninhabited pasture and swamp land, into a global destination resort that welcomes millions of visitors every year.
The enabling legislation created a five-member Board of Supervisors, elected by property owners, to govern the District. The Board and the District’s administrative staff deal with complex issues involving land use and construction on the property. The goal is to ensure the economic viability of the District’s four theme parks and the more than 40,000 hotel rooms, restaurants and retail stores, while never sacrificing the remarkable wildlife and ecological environment they inherited.
The legislation gave the District staff permission to write its own building codes, called the “EPCOT Codes” that were considered the most stringent in the country when approved by the Board of Supervisors in 1970. The purpose of the EPCOT Codes was to ensure that innovative building techniques and safety worked hand-in-hand as the property was developed. The EPCOT codes have been amended several times since then, but remain among the toughest in the nation. Parts of the codes have been adopted by national, regional and state building agencies.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District has built and maintained 134 miles of roadway and 67 miles of waterways as part of its responsibilities as the local government agency. The roads help 250,000 daily guests move around safely and efficiently on property. Most of the roads are four-to-six lanes wide and feature over-sized, color-coded, directional signs to help eliminate traffic tie-ups for visitors.
The District operates one of the most successful fire prevention and emergency medical services teams in the state. Response time for fire or EMS averages just six to eight minutes. That, combined with codes that require sprinklers and smoke detectors in every building on property, make for an extremely safe environment. Structural damage to buildings on property has never exceeded $500,000 since the District was formed.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District pays special attention to the environment and how development affects not just the District, but the areas surrounding it as well. The District handles 60,000 tons of waste and recycles 30 tons of aluminum, paper, steel cans, cardboard and plastic containers every year.
RCID scientists collect 22,800 water samples from 1,500 locations on the property for testing every year. From that, they conduct more than 90,000 analyses to make sure that water quality meets or exceeds state and national standards. The effort has helped RCID keep a tight control on pollutants. Tests show that water draining from the south end of the District is generally cleaner than when it entered Reedy Creek at its north end. This is significant because Reedy Creek drains into the headwaters for the Everglades.
The District is an example of economic efficiency in local government. The assessed valued for properties in the Reedy Creek Improvement District exceeded $7 billion in 2012. The $269 million the District collected in ad valorem taxes, utility and permit fees, allowed it to cover all of its operating and debt costs.
Walt Disney World accounts for 85 percent of the revenues collected. Walt Disney World and other District taxpayers also pay taxes to Orange County ($105 million in 2012) and Osceola County ($8 million in 2012).
The cooperation and commitment between the Reedy Creek Improvement District and Walt Disney World Company is as strong today as it was when the District was created in 1967. The result is an example of how a working partnership between business and government can be prosperous for both sides.