The Walt Disney Company is scrapping plans to build a nearly $1 billion corporate campus in Florida that would have housed 2,000 employees amid its ongoing legal battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, Reuters reports.
Josh D’Amaro, the head of Disney parks, said in an email to employees Thursday that “changed business conditions” led Disney to reconsider its 2021 plan to relocate employees, including its creatives. who design theme park attractions, to a new campus in Lake Nona.
According to the Orlando Sentinel, the company was expected to spend as much as $864 million on a campus project that would have served as the base for Walt Disney Imagineering and the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products division.
Disney’s decision to relocate California-based Imagineering staff across the country prompted complaints from employees, many of whom said they did not want to relocate to Florida.
“Given the considerable changes that have occurred since the announcement of this project, including new leadership and changing business conditions, we have decided not to proceed with construction on the campus,” D’Amaro wrote. “It hasn’t been an easy decision to make, but I think it’s the right one.”
A week ago, Disney CEO Bob Iger publicly questioned Florida’s interest in the company continuing to invest in the state. On a call with investors to discuss quarterly results, he noted that Disney employed more than 75,000 people in Florida, drew millions of visitors each year to Walt Disney World and had plans to invest $17 billion to expand the resort in 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 although Disney announced the possibility of a Lake Nona campus nearly two years ago, “nothing ever came of the project, and the state was unsure if it would ever come to fruition.”
Redfern wrote that given the company’s financial condition, “it is not surprising that they restructure their business operations and close failed businesses.”
Disney and DeSantis have been locked in an escalating battle that began in March 2022, when then-Disney CEO Bob Chapek criticized Florida legislation that would limit discussion of gender identity and sexuality on social media. primary schools.
DeSantis, who is expected to announce soon that he will seek the Republican nomination for US president in 2024, then moved to strip Disney of its former self-governing power over Walt Disney World in Orlando. The governor argued that “Disney Awakens” should not receive special treatment in the state.
Disney called the move political retaliation for what should be protected free speech and sued the state last month to get it reversed.
Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign was quick to seize the news, with the Trump War Room account tweeting that DeSantis’ actions cost the state jobs and investment. Linda Stewart, a Democratic state senator, called Florida losing jobs “disappointing.”
Former Congressman Carlos Curbelo, a Republican who represented Miami, praised DeSantis’ leadership during the pandemic but said the governor was tarnishing his own record and discouraging businesses from coming to Florida or expanding in the state.
“This is the first obvious negative consequence of an overly aggressive approach to governing and to politics,” Curbelo said.
Iger’s predecessor announced in July 2021 plans to move jobs from southern California to a new facility in central Florida, citing its “business-friendly climate.” Although Disney has never revealed the value of its investment, the Los Angeles Times reported that it would receive about $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 10 years. I hope we’ll be able to do it.”
The company also announced Thursday that it will close its Star Wars-themed luxury hotel in Orlando in September, less than two years after it opened, as the media giant cuts costs across its entertainment and parks businesses. .
Iger said in February that the company plans to cut costs by $5.5 billion.