Walt Disney Co has decided to cancel its proposed construction of a nearly $1 billion corporate campus in central Florida, which was intended to accommodate 2,000 employees, as revealed in an internal email sent to employees on Thursday.
This decision comes amidst the company’s ongoing legal dispute with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.
Disney’s head of parks, Josh D’Amaro, cited “changing business conditions” as the reason behind reconsidering the plan to relocate employees, including the Imagineers responsible for designing theme park attractions, to a new campus in Lake Nona.
The estimated cost of the project was anticipated to be around $864 million, and it would have served as a hub for Walt Disney Imagineering and the Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products division.
The decision to relocate California-based Imagineering staff to Florida sparked discontent among employees who expressed their unwillingness to make the move.
In light of various significant changes since the project’s announcement, including new leadership and shifting business conditions, D’Amaro stated that the company has opted not to proceed with the campus construction. Although a difficult choice, he believed it was the right one.
A week prior to this announcement, Disney CEO Bob Iger openly questioned the state of Florida’s commitment to the company’s continued investment in the region.
During an investor call discussing quarterly results, Iger pointed out that Disney employed over 75,000 individuals in Florida, attracted millions of visitors to Walt Disney World each year, and had plans to invest $17 billion in resort expansion over the next decade.
Iger questioned whether the state desired Disney to increase its investment, create more employment opportunities, and contribute higher tax revenues.
In response to Disney’s decision, Jeremy T. Redfern, press secretary for Governor DeSantis, stated that while Disney had announced the possibility of a Lake Nona campus nearly two years ago, no progress had been made on the project, leaving the state uncertain about its realization.
Disney Abandons $1 Billion Campus Project
According to Redfern’s statement, it is expected that Disney would restructure its business operations and discontinue unsuccessful endeavors given their financial situation.
The conflict between Disney and DeSantis has been intensifying since March 2022 when then-CEO Bob Chapek criticized Florida legislation that imposed limitations on discussions of gender identity and sexuality in elementary schools.
In response, DeSantis, who is anticipated to announce his bid for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, took action to remove Disney’s longstanding self-governing authority over Walt Disney World in Orlando.
The governor contended that Disney, which he referred to as “woke Disney,” should not be granted preferential treatment within the state.
Disney viewed this move as political retaliation and a violation of protected free speech, leading them to file a lawsuit against the state in an attempt to reverse these actions.
Former President Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign swiftly seized on the news, with the Trump War Room account tweeting about the detrimental impact of DeSantis’s actions on job opportunities and investments in the state.
Democratic State Senator Linda Stewart, representing part of Orange County, expressed disappointment over the loss of jobs for Florida.
Carlos Curbelo, a former Republican Congressman from Miami, praised DeSantis’s leadership during the pandemic. However, he voiced concern that the governor’s actions were tarnishing his own record and discouraging businesses from choosing Florida as a destination for expansion.
In July 2021, Bob Iger, the former CEO of Disney, revealed intentions to transfer job positions from Southern California to a newly established facility situated in central Florida.
He attributed this decision to the advantageous business environment offered by the state. While the exact value of Disney’s investment was not disclosed, reports from the Los Angeles Times indicated that the company would receive approximately $580 million in tax credits over the next 19 years.
D’Amaro, the current head of Disney parks, expressed optimism about the future of Walt Disney World, highlighting plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the next decade. He expressed his hope that these plans would come to fruition.