Disney cancels plans for a new Florida campus, mass relocation of employees amid DeSantis feud

Cinderella Castle in Walt Disney World.

Roberto Machado Noa | Light Rocket | Getty Images

Disney has dropped plans to open a new staff campus in Lake Nona, Florida, amid rising tensions with the state’s governor.

Citing “changing business conditions” and the return of CEO Bob Iger, Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s president of Parks, Experiences, and Products, penned a memo to employees Thursday, announcing that the company would not move forward with campus construction and would not require more than 2,000 employees to California moving to Florida.

“It wasn’t an easy decision, but I think it’s the right one,” D’Amaro told the staff.

Plans to relocate the company were rejected by several Disney employees when they were first announced in July 2021 by former CEO Bob Chapek. While some have left the company, or moved on to other jobs within Disney that don’t require moving to Florida, others have expressed hope that the plan will fizzle out after the delay. The campus was originally scheduled to open in 2022-2023, but was later pushed back to 2026.

Disney is headquartered in Burbank, California, but operates a number of satellite offices around the country and the world.

D’Amaro said employees who have already moved to Florida may be able to return to California.

β€œIt is clear to me that the strength of this brand comes from our incredible employees, and we are committed to handling this change with care and compassion,” he said.

Disney’s announcement comes amid a bitter dispute between the company and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The company has filed a lawsuit accusing DeSantis and the new board members of its district of carrying out a campaign of political retaliation against the entertainment giant.

DeSantis took aim at Disney’s own district, formerly called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, after the company publicly criticized a controversial bill in Florida β€” dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics β€” that limits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classes. tuition.

The private zone has allowed the entertainment giant effective autonomy for Orlando’s parks operations for decades. The district was eventually left intact, but its five-member board of directors was replaced by DeSantis’ selections and renamed the Central Florida Tourism Control District.

Disney filed its lawsuit in late April after the new board of directors voted to cancel development contracts the company said it had signed to secure its investment. The company has since updated that lawsuit to include newly passed legislation targeting the monorail system as further evidence of the governor’s retaliation.

Iger has publicly criticized DeSantis and the Florida government, stating that Disney has created thousands of indirect jobs, brings about 50 million visitors to Florida each year and is the largest taxpayer in the state.

In a statement released later Thursday, DeSantis’ representatives called the decision to cancel the Lake Nona campus “unsurprising.”

“Disney announced the possibility of a campus in Lake Nona nearly two years ago. The project never came to fruition, and the state wasn’t sure if it would come to fruition,” DeSantis’ office said in the statement.

D’Amaro emphasized in his note that the company still plans to invest $17 billion in Florida over the next 10 years, including adding about 13,000 jobs. The company currently employs more than 75,000 people in the state.

Disney declined to provide specific updates on this investment, but it has previously announced plans to update its theme park attractions, expand existing parks and add more cruise ships to its fleet in Florida.

“I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business,” D’Amaro told employees.

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