Disney Cancels $1 Billion Corporate Campus in Orlando Amid Feud with Governor DeSantis over “Don’t Say Gay” Law and “Woke” Policies

The ongoing feud between Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and Disney has taken another turn as the entertainment giant has canceled its plans to build a $1 billion corporate campus in Orlando’s Lake Nona neighborhood, citing “changing business conditions.” The move comes after a long-running culture war feud that began when Disney opposed DeSantis’s “Don’t Say Gay” law that limits discussion of LGBTQ+ issues in classrooms. Disney claims that DeSantis and his Republican allies have orchestrated a campaign of political retaliation against the company, while DeSantis maintains that he is ending the company’s long reign of operating in Florida with special privileges.[0]

The dispute between the governor and Disney dates back to last spring when DeSantis signed legislation that restricted the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity for kindergarten through third grade, dubbed by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay bill.” The measure is part of his targeting of cultural issues and his campaign against “woke” diversity, equity, and inclusion policies.[1] However, Disney’s clash with DeSantis, a huge firm that appeals to millions of mainstream Americans and has sought to become more inclusive in recent years, could hint at difficulties DeSantis might have in selling such policies towards more moderate voters in a general election.[1]

DeSantis has used his relentless attacks on Disney as a way to shore up conservative support for his anti-woke agenda in Florida and nationwide.[2] After revoking the company’s special-district status last year, DeSantis won re-election by almost 20 points, which seemed to prove that there was little political downside in going after a company that generates such goodwill with American children.[2] Lately, his approach has demonstrated indications of deterioration.[2]

Earlier this week, Disney abruptly announced to its employees that it would be dropping plans to build a nearly $1 billion corporate campus in Orlando’s Lake Nona neighborhood, which would have brought 2,000 high-paying jobs to Central Florida.[3] The New York Times, citing two people briefed on Disney’s decision, wrote that the company’s battle with DeSantis and his allies in the Florida Legislature figured prominently into Disney’s decision to cancel the project.[4]

Disney then filed a federal lawsuit against DeSantis and state officials, alleging a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” for “expressing a political viewpoint.” The move prompted a lawsuit from Disney, accusing state officials of conducting “a relentless campaign to weaponize government power against Disney in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint unpopular with certain state officials.”

Despite the cancellation of the Lake Nona project, Disney officials say they still plan to invest $17 billion in Walt Disney World and add 13,000 new jobs over the next 10 years.[5]

In an email to employees, Josh D’Amaro, the head of Disney’s theme park division, also referred to “changing business conditions.”[6] DeSantis’ office blamed the decision on Disney’s “financial straits, falling market cap, and declining stock price,” calling it “unsurprising” and claiming “the state was unsure whether [the project] would come to fruition” in a statement.[7]

Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings said in a statement, “It is unfortunate that Disney will not be moving forward with construction of the Lake Nona campus.[8] However, these are the consequences when there isn’t an inclusive and collaborative work environment between the state of Florida and the business community.”[8]

This ongoing battle between DeSantis and one of Florida’s largest employers highlights the political tensions that can arise when businesses and politicians clash over issues such as diversity and inclusion. It remains to be seen how this feud will impact both Disney and DeSantis in the long term, but it is clear that the effects will be felt by both parties.

0. “Why Disney pulled out of a $1 billion investment in Florida amid DeSantis feud” Vox.com, 19 May. 2023, https://www.vox.com/politics/2023/5/19/23730119/ron-desantis-disney-florida-investment-2024-election

1. “Disney rocks DeSantis ahead of expected White House bid announcement” CNN, 19 May. 2023, https://www.cnn.com/2023/05/19/politics/desantis-disney-feud/index.html

2. “Mickey Mouse Is Starting to Get Revenge on Ron DeSantis” New York Magazine, 18 May. 2023, https://nymag.com/intelligencer/2023/05/disney-is-starting-to-get-revenge-on-ron-desantis.html

3. “DeSantis claims federal judge handling Disney lawsuit made impartial statements in favor of Disney.” Orlando Sentinel, 19 May. 2023, https://www.orlandosentinel.com/2023/05/19/desantis-asks-federal-court-to-disqualify-judge-in-disney-case

4. “What to know about the Florida tax incentive involved in Disney’s now-canceled project” Tampa Bay Times, 19 May. 2023, https://www.tampabay.com/news/business/2023/05/19/florida-disney-project-campus-tax-incentive-lake-nona/

5. “How Disney’s canceled development could affect Florida’s economy” WESH 2 Orlando, 19 May. 2023, https://www.wesh.com/article/disney-florida-campus-canceled/43945475

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

7. “DeSantis Doubles Down On War With Disney: ‘Zero’ Chance State Will Back Down After Cancellation Of $1 Billion Project” Forbes, 19 May. 2023, https://www.forbes.com/sites/saradorn/2023/05/19/desantis-doubles-down-on-war-with-disney-zero-chance-state-will-back-down-after-cancellation-of-1-billion-project/

8. “Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office, Orlando leaders sound off after Disney nixes Lake Nona campus” The Business Journals, 18 May. 2023, https://www.bizjournals.com/orlando/news/2023/05/18/disney-lake-nona-campus-state-local-leaders-react.html

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