Disney Cancels $1 Billion Campus Project in Florida, Citing Tensions with Governor DeSantis

Disney has cancelled plans to build a $1 billion campus in the Lake Nona area of Orlando, Florida, and will no longer be relocating thousands of jobs to the state.[0] The project, known as the Lake Nona Town Center, was supposed to involve the relocation of more than 1,000 employees from Southern California, primarily from the Imagineering division, to Central Florida, in an effort to capitalize on a Florida tax credit that would have allowed Disney to regain nearly $600 million over 20 years for the move.[1] Disney initially announced the project in 2021 due to Florida’s “business-friendly climate”.[2]

The decision to cancel the project comes after a year of tension between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, beginning with the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” legislation, which restricts public schools from discussing sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms.[3] Disney publicly opposed the law, which led DeSantis to take aim at Disney’s special district, which essentially functions as a local government, and take “exclusive jurisdiction and control” of the district, home to Disney’s 27,000-acre theme park and resort.[4] In March, the company sued the governor and fellow Florida Republicans for “a targeted campaign of government retaliation”.[4]

DeSantis has also canceled Disney’s longstanding agreement with the state to self-govern its resort and has had a personal vendetta against Disney since the company criticized the “Don’t Say Gay” law last year.[4] Last week, he signed a bill to specifically subject Disney World’s monorail system to enhanced state inspections and regulations.[5]

Disney CEO Bob Iger has questioned Florida’s interest in having Disney grow in the state, saying on a quarterly call with investors, “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?”[1] Iger hinted at a withdrawal from Florida on Disney’s May 10 earnings call, when he said the company was “closely evaluating where it makes sense to direct future investments” in Disney’s theme park business.[6]

The cancelation of the Lake Nona project comes as details leaked about DeSantis’ imminent presidential run, and Disney’s decision is seen by some as a blow back against the governor. “Given the considerable changes that have occurred since the announcement of this project, including new leadership and changing business conditions, we have decided not to move forward with construction of the campus,” said Josh D’Amaro, head of Disney’s parks and consumer products, in a memo to employees.[7] “This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one.[8] As a result, we will no longer be asking our employees to relocate.[9] For those who have already moved, we will talk to you individually about your situation, including the possibility of moving you back.”[8]

Disney World is Florida’s largest employer, with approximately 75,000 workers.[10] The cancelation of the Lake Nona project means that the 2,000 jobs that were headed to Florida will now no longer be leaving Southern California, where the entertainment company is headquartered.[10]

0. “Disney canceling $1B campus project for Orlando’s Lake Nona. Here’s why” WKMG News 6 & ClickOrlando, 18 May. 2023, https://www.clickorlando.com/news/local/2023/05/18/disney-canceling-1b-campus-project-for-orlandos-lake-nona-heres-why/

1. “Disney scuttles $1B Florida development plan amid feud with DeSantis” POLITICO, 18 May. 2023, https://www.politico.com/news/2023/05/18/disney-development-florida-desantis-00097753

2. “Disney cancels $1 billion Orlando development that would have brought over 2K jobs” WJXT News4JAX , 18 May. 2023, https://www.news4jax.com/news/florida/2023/05/18/disney-cancels-1-billion-orlando-development

3. “Walt Disney Company Cancels Imagineering Move to Florida” Gizmodo, 18 May. 2023, https://gizmodo.com/disney-cancels-imagineering-florida-move-ron-desantis-1850451053

4. “Disney—Amid War With DeSantis—Kills $1 Billion Florida Complex” Forbes, 18 May. 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/anafaguy/2023/05/18/disney-amid-war-with-desantis-kills-1-billion-florida-complex/

5. “Ron DiSaster Loses $1 Billion Disney Project Days Before 2024 Announcement” The New Republic, 18 May. 2023, https://newrepublic.com/post/172833/ron-desantis-loses-1-billion-disney-project

6. “Disney Drops Plans to Build New Florida Campus” Hollywood Reporter, 18 May. 2023, https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/business/business-news/disney-drops-florida-campus-1235495540/

7. “Ron DeSantis Responds To Disney Ditching Florida Relocation Plan” Deadline, 18 May. 2023, https://deadline.com/2023/05/disney-ron-desantis-florida-relocation-response-bob-iger-1235372316

8. “Disney Gives DeSantis the Finger by Scrapping $1B Florida Plans” The Daily Beast, 18 May. 2023, https://www.thedailybeast.com/disney-gives-desantis-the-finger-by-scrapping-dollar1b-florida-plans

9. “Disney’s Lake Nona project canceled amid fight with Gov. Ron DeSantis” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 18 May. 2023, https://www.heraldtribune.com/story/news/politics/2023/05/18/florida-gov-ron-desantis-disney-world-fight-dooms-lake-nona-project/70233055007

10. “Disney kills $1 billion project in Florida ahead of DeSantis 2024 run” Business Insider, 18 May. 2023, https://www.businessinsider.com/disney-kills-1-billion-project-florida-ahead-desantis-2024-run-2023-5

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