Disney Cancels $1 Billion Campus Project in Orlando, Relocates Jobs to Florida Amid Battle with Governor DeSantis

Disney has announced that it will cancel plans to build a $1 billion campus in the Lake Nona area of Orlando and relocate thousands of jobs to Florida.[0] The Lake Nona Town Center project was intended to relocate over 1,000 workers from Southern California.[1] The new campus was planned to complement Disney’s operations in Southern California and its regional hub in the New York City area and be home to more than 2000 Cast, Imagineers, and employees.[2] Originally scheduled for completion by the end of 2022, the move to Florida has faced delays and has been in the planning phase since 2019.[2] The decision comes as Disney is in the middle of a battle with Governor Ron DeSantis, which began last year when the company opposed the state’s Parental Rights in Education legislation, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by its opponents. After speaking out against the state’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Disney was stripped of its special privileges and subsequently sued DeSantis, alleging a “Don’t Say Gay” for the loss of $570 million in tax breaks that it had hoped to take advantage of.[0]

For more than a year, Disney and DeSantis have been engaged in a dispute concerning controversial legislation that was signed by the governor, which places limitations on the instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity in educational institutions. Critics have labeled the law “Don’t Say Gay.” The fight between the company and governor simmers, and Disney’s new CEO Bob Iger last week publicly questioned Florida’s interest in investing in the California-based company that has satellite offices across the world.[3] During a quarterly call with investors, Iger inquired, “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?”[4]

The decision to cancel the Lake Nona project is a blow to the state of Florida as it would have brought about 2,000 jobs to Orange County. Disney had hoped to capitalize on a Florida tax credit that would have allowed them to regain nearly $600 million over 20 years for the move.[4] However, Josh D’Amaro, the head of Disney Parks & Resorts, wrote to employees stating that the company has decided not to move forward with construction of the campus due to “considerable changes that have occurred since the announcement of this project, including new leadership and changing business conditions.”

Disney’s decision to cancel the project has also raised concerns about the company’s financial situation.[5] Given the company’s financial straits, falling market cap, and declining stock price, it is unsurprising that they would restructure their business operations and cancel unsuccessful ventures, said DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern.[6] The cancellation of the Lake Nona project is one of several recent setbacks for the company, as they have also announced that they will shut down their Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser resort at Disney World just over a year after it opened.[2]

Despite the cancellation of the Lake Nona project, Disney’s relationship with the state of Florida remains important as Disney World is Florida’s largest employer, with approximately 75,000 workers.[7] The cancellation may also have political implications as Governor DeSantis continues to face criticism for his opposition to LGBTQ rights.[8] Disney’s decision to cancel the project could be perceived as a win for LGBTQ activists who have been fighting against the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation.[5]

0. “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

1. “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

2. “Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings releases statement on Disney pulling out of Florida HQ project blaming the …” wdwmagic.com, 18 May. 2023, https://www.wdwmagic.com/other/walt-disney-company/news/18may2023-orange-county-mayor-jerry-demings-releases-statement-on-disney-pulling-out-of-florida-blaming-the-environment-between-the-state-of-florida-and-the-business-community.htm

3. “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

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. “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/

6. “Disney is pulling out of a $1 billion investment in Florida amid DeSantis feud” CBS News, 18 May. 2023, https://www.cbsnews.com/news/disney-ends-1-billion-florida-investment-desantis-lake-nona/

7. “Disney scraps plans on roughly $1 billion investment at new corporate campus in Florida” MarketWatch, 18 May. 2023, https://www.marketwatch.com/story/disney-scraps-plans-on-nearly-900-million-investment-at-new-corporate-campus-in-florida-e7b9f3d0

8. “Disney scraps $867m Florida plan amid Ron DeSantis feud” BBC, 18 May. 2023, https://www.bbc.com/news/world-us-canada-65639132

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