Disney Cancels $1 Billion Office Complex and 2,000 Jobs in Florida Amid Feud with Governor DeSantis over “Don’t Say Gay” Bill

Disney has cancelled plans to build a $1 billion office complex in Florida and relocate over 2,000 jobs to the state, citing “changing business conditions.”[0] The move comes amid an ongoing feud with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who has passed multiple bills targeting the company after it opposed one of his signature policies.[1] The dispute between the governor and Disney dates back to the firm’s objections to legislation that DeSantis signed last spring 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 DeSantis’s targeting of cultural issues and his campaign against “woke” diversity, equity and inclusion policies. The tactic is designed to attract the attention of right-leaning individuals who feel that the conventional principles of America are being threatened by a society that is becoming more varied and all-embracing.[2] However, the governor’s clash with Disney, 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 toward more moderate voters in a general election.[2]

Disney has been embroiled in a heated public feud with the state and Governor DeSantis over the adoption of a Florida law limiting the discussion and teaching of some gender concepts in elementary schools, referred to by critics as “don’t say gay,” and the state’s move to dissolve a special tax district around Disney property in Florida. The company has also sued DeSantis and the new Central Florida Tourism Oversight District in federal court in Tallahassee, claiming “a targeted campaign of government retaliation.”[3]

More than 2,000 job opportunities were expected to be generated in the Orlando area with the development of the Lake Nona Town Center.[4] Many of those employees would have come from a Southern California department known as Imagineering, which works with Disney’s moviemakers to develop theme park attractions.[4] Most of them complained harshly about the planned move, set up in 2021 amid what Disney Parks chief Josh D’Amaro called Florida’s “business-friendly climate.”[4] Bob Iger, who has recently resumed the role of CEO, expressed lesser enthusiasm for the Lake Nona project compared to his predecessor Bob Chapek.[4]

In an email to employees, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh D’Amaro attributed the decision to “changing business conditions.” The New York Times reported that “the company’s battle with DeSantis and his allies in the Florida Legislature figured prominently into Disney’s decision to cancel the Lake Nona project.”

Disney still has $17 billion worth of development planned for Disney World over the next decade, which would create some 13,000 jobs.[5] “I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business,” D’Amaro said, adding, “I hope we’re able to.” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said, “It is unfortunate that Disney will not be moving forward with construction of the Lake Nona campus.[6] However, these are the consequences when there isn’t an inclusive and collaborative work environment between the state of Florida and the business community.[7] We will continue to work closely with our valued partners at Disney.[8]

0. “Disney cancels plans for $1 billion Florida campus” NPR, 18 May. 2023, https://www.npr.org/2023/05/18/1176931662/disney-cancels-plans-for-1-billion-florida-campus

1. “Disney deals major blow to Florida, cancels $1 billion investment as DeSantis feud escalates” Sarasota Herald-Tribune, 18 May. 2023, https://www.heraldtribune.com/story/money/2023/05/18/desantis-disney-fight-dooms-florida-project/70233608007

2. “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

3. “Disney asks court to dismiss DeSantis board’s lawsuit in fight over special tax district” CNBC, 16 May. 2023, https://www.cnbc.com/2023/05/16/disney-asks-court-to-dismiss-desantis-boards-lawsuit.html

4. “Wall Street Breakfast: Pulling The Plug” Seeking Alpha, 19 May. 2023, https://seekingalpha.com/article/4606016-wall-street-breakfast-pulling-plug

5. “DeSantis vs.Disney feud escalates: 3 new Florida laws target Disney” News-Press, 19 May. 2023, https://www.news-press.com/story/news/politics/2023/05/19/desantis-vs-disney-feud-escalate-florida-legislature-bills-new-laws/70234282007

6. “Trump campaign knocks DeSantis over Disney’s cancelled Florida expansion plan” The Independent, 18 May. 2023, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/trump-2024-desantis-disney-florida-b2341744.html

7. “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/

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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