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Politics and Real Estate - A Volatile Relationship


The recent decision by Disney to suspend its planned office development in Lake Nona (Orlando) is another reminder of the conflict that results from the forced marriage of politics and real estate.


Disney had opposed DeSantis’ Presidential candidate and Governor of Florida, Parents’ Rights Bill which is seen as anti-gay. DeSantis in turn stripped Disney of the property tax and self-governing status of its massive real estate holdings that comprise Disney World and its other theme parks around Orlando. Florida granted these rights to Disney in 1966 as an incentive to come to Orlando which at the time was more of a hot swamp than a thriving metropolis that it became as a result of Disney coming to Florida.


Politics and real estate have had a tempestuous relationship since the beginning of human beings or even when primal animals inhabited the planet. Whether it be dinosaurs eating other dinosaurs for the land rights to food and water, or the earliest human tribes killing other tribes for the rights to fertile ground, conflict has been the ultimate land planner.


The US would not have a constitution today had not Jefferson and Hamilton compromised on what piece of land the nation’s capital would be. Instead of Philadelphia or New York it would be along the Potomac in northern Virginia. In return the southern states would help pay off northern states’ war debts arising from the Revolutionary War.


Since the colonial period, the establishment of county and city governments’ planning and zoning boards decide how land is to be used. A developer submits a project to be reviewed by politicians on these boards, and with input from the residents, plans are accepted, rejected or amended. However, what happens behind the curtain before the boards of jurisdiction decide the fate of projects - lots of money and or favors have been extended to get the favored outcome.


It is not always the robber baron developers buying the decisions of the politicians. Sometimes it’s the other way around. A few years ago prior to the pandemic, Amazon was about to build a regional headquarters in the impoverished city of Long Island City, NY. Alexandra Ocasio Cortez is the congresswoman from that district. Despite Amazon bringing thousands of jobs and other opportunities to the area, including residential real estate, the promise of affordable housing and other perks, Cortez bad mouthed what she described to be the corporate greed and master slave mentality she believed Jeff Bezos brought to her district. Amazon pulled out of the deal, citing if you don’t want us we won’t come.


The decision by Disney to scrap its project could be a major problem for other developments in the shadow of the Lake Nona project. Many developers have purchased land around the Disney site for commercial, residential retail office and numerous entertainment and restaurant destinations. Without the major draw of a big Disney project, the area could be like Niagara falls without water.

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