In an unexpected turn of events, Disney announced on Thursday its decision to cancel a significant development project in Florida, worth approximately $900 million, citing “changing business conditions.” The project would have brought 2,000 high-paying jobs to the state, but will no longer move forward.
This decision comes amidst an escalating dispute between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis regarding the dissolution of a special district that previously governed Disney’s theme parks in the Orlando area. Disney CEO Robert Iger, during a recent conference call with financial analysts, questioned whether the state wants them to invest more, create more jobs, and contribute more in taxes.
The initial plan, proposed by Bob Chapek, Iger’s predecessor, involved relocating 2,000 employees from the California theme park and investing $864 million in a new campus situated around 20 miles away from the Magic Kingdom, in the Lake Nona area. The occupations associated with this project, including Disney characters and “Imagineers,” were estimated by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to have an average compensation of $120,000.
However, with Iger’s return as CEO last year, the corporation underwent significant changes. The company eliminated 7,000 jobs and made a $5.5 billion cut in content and administrative budgets, as reported by The Wall Street Journal.
In an email sent to employees on Thursday, Walt Disney Parks and Resorts chairperson Josh D’Amaro explained the decision not to proceed with the project, stating that “considerable changes” had taken place since its announcement, including leadership shifts and evolving business conditions.
According to sources cited by The Wall Street Journal, these changing business conditions encompass job losses and escalating conflicts between Disney and Florida lawmakers, including Governor DeSantis. Hundreds of Disney employees have already relocated to Florida, and D’Amaro assured them that they will have the option to return.
D’Amaro acknowledged that while some employees were enthusiastic about the new campus, the decision to cancel the project had been challenging for others.
At the time of writing, we have reached out to the governor’s office for comment, but have yet to receive a response.
Tensions between Disney and DeSantis have been mounting since Chapek criticized Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” measure in March 2022, which seeks to limit discussions around gender identity and sexual orientation in elementary schools. DeSantis, rumored to be considering a presidential run in 2024, subsequently moved to revoke Disney’s longstanding autonomy over Walt Disney World, arguing that “woke Disney” should not receive special privileges in the state.
Disney has filed a lawsuit against the state, asserting that the changes imposed are politically motivated reprisals against protected free speech. Conversely, the state has also filed a lawsuit against Disney.
Despite the current dispute, D’Amaro expressed confidence in the future of the company at Walt Disney World, emphasizing plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 new jobs over the next decade. He stated, “I truly hope that we can achieve this.”