Walt Disney Co is scrapping plans to build a nearly $1 billion corporate campus in central Florida that could house 2,000 employees. The decision comes amid an ongoing legal battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
Head of Disney Parks Josh D’Amaro said the “changing business environment” prompted the company to reconsider its plans to relocate some of its employees, including specialists who design theme park rides, to the new Lake Nona campus.
The company was expected to spend up to $864 million on the campus, which would serve as the base for Walt Disney Imagineering and Disney Parks, Experiences and Products.
Disney’s decision to move the Imagineering division’s employees out of California prompted complaints from employees, many of whom said they didn’t want to move to Florida.
“Given the significant changes that have taken place since the announcement of this project, including the arrival of new management and changing business conditions, we have decided not to move forward with the construction of the campus,” wrote D’Amaro. “It was not an easy decision, but I believe that it is the right one,” he stressed.
A week ago Disney CEO Bob Iger publicly questioned Florida’s interest in continuing the company’s investment in that state. Speaking to investors during the quarterly results discussion, he noted that Disney employs more than 75,000 people in Florida, millions of visitors visit Walt Disney World every year, and that the company plans to invest $17 billion over the next decade to develop the resort.
“Does the state want us to invest even more, hire more people and pay more taxes, or not?” Aiger asked.
DeSantis spokesman Jeremy T. Redfern wrote that while Disney announced the possibility of a Lake Nona campus almost two years ago, “nothing has come of the project and the state is unsure if it will come to fruition.”
Redfern wrote that, given the company’s financial position, “it’s not surprising they are restructuring their business operations and canceling failed undertakings.”
Disney and DeSantis are embroiled in an increasingly bitter rivalry that began in March 2022 when the then-CEO of Disney Bob Chapek criticized a Florida law restricting discussion of gender identity and sexuality in elementary schools.
DeSantis, who is expected to seek the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, then moved to strip Disney of its longtime self-governing hold over Walt Disney World in Orlando. The governor argued that Disney should not enjoy special treatment in the state.
Disney called the move political retaliation for something that should be protected by free speech, and last month the company sued the state to reverse the move.
Former president’s presidential campaign Donald Trump 2024 quickly seized on the news, with the Trump War Room’s Twitter account stating that DeSantis’ actions were costing the state jobs and investments. Democratic Senator Linda Stewart called it “disappointing” that Florida would lose revenue.
Former Republican congressman Carlos Curbelo praised DeSantis’ actions during the pandemic, but said the governor tarnished his reputation and discouraged companies from moving to Florida or expanding into the state.
“This is the first obvious negative consequence of an overly aggressive approach to governance and politics,” Curbelo said.
In July 2021, Iger’s predecessor announced plans to move jobs from Southern California to a new facility in central Florida, citing a “business-friendly climate”. Although Disney has never disclosed the value of its investment, the Los Angeles Times reported that the company will receive nearly $580 million in tax credits over the next 19 years.
“I remain optimistic about the direction of our business to 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.”
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