Walt Disney Co DIS.N scrapped plans to build a nearly $1 billion corporate campus in central Florida that would house 2,000 employees, according to an e-mail to employees Thursday, against against the backdrop of its ongoing legal battle with Florida Governor Ron. DeSantis.
Disney parks chief Josh D’Amaro said “changing business conditions” prompted Disney to rethink its 2021 plan to relocate employees, including Imagineers which designs the theme park rides, at a new campus in Lake Nona.
The company is expected to spend up to $864 million on the project, according to the Orlando Sentinel, on a campus that will serve as a base for Walt Disney Imagineering and the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products division.
Disney’s decision to move its California-based Imagineering staff across the country drew complaints from employees, many of whom said they didn’t want to move to Florida.
“Due to the many changes that have occurred since the announcement of this project, including new leadership and changing business conditions, we have decided not to proceed with campus construction,” wrote D Amaro. “It was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it was the right one.”
A week ago, Disney CEO Bob Iger publicly questioned Florida’s interest in the company’s continued investment in the state. In a call with investors to discuss quarterly results, he noted that Disney employs more than 75,000 people in Florida, attracts millions of visitors each year to Walt Disney World and has plans to invest $17 billion to expand the resort over the next decade.
“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?,” Iger asked.
DeSantis’ press secretary, Jeremy T. Redfern, wrote that while Disney announced the possibility of a Lake Nona campus nearly two years ago, “nothing came of the project, and the state is not sure if it will be fulfilled.”
Redfern wrote that given the company’s financial position, “it is not surprising that they will restructure their business operations and cancel unsuccessful businesses.”
Disney and DeSantis have been locked in a bitter feud that began in March 2022, when Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticized a Florida law that would limit the discussion of gender identity and sexuality in elementary schools. .
DeSantis, who is expected to soon announce that he will seek the 2024 Republican nomination for US president, then moved to strip Disney of its long-held power to self-manage Walt Disney World in Orlando. The governor argued that “waking up Disney” should not receive special attention in the state.
Disney called the move political retaliation for what should be free speech protections and sued the state last month to reverse the measures.
Former President Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign quickly grabbed the news, with the Trump War Room account tweeting that DeSantis’ actions cost the state jobs and investment. Democratic State Sen. Linda Stewart, who represents part of Orange County, called it “disappointing” that Florida would lose jobs.
Former Congressman Carlos Curbelo, a Republican who represents Miami, praised DeSantis’ leadership during the pandemic, but said the governor is tarnishing his own record and preventing businesses from coming to Florida or expanding in the state.
“This is the first obvious negative result of an overly aggressive management and political approach,” said Curbelo.
Iger’s predecessor announced plans in July 2021 to move jobs from Southern California to a new facility in central Florida, citing a “good business climate.” While Disney has not yet disclosed the amount of its investment, the Los Angeles Times reports that it will receive nearly $580 million in tax credits over the next 19 years.
“I remain optimistic about the direction of our business at Walt Disney World,” D’Amaro wrote. We have plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the next ten years. I hope we can do it.”