Disney Cancels Florida Campus Project Amidst Controversy and Changing Business Landscape

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In a surprising move, The Walt Disney Co. has announced the cancellation of its new campus project near Disney World in Florida and the subsequent relocation of approximately 2,000 employees from Southern California. The campus, planned for construction in Lake Nona Town Center, was initially estimated to cost $864 million but recent estimates put the price closer to $1.3 billion.

Disney’s theme park and consumer products chairman, Josh D’Amaro, informed employees of the decision, citing significant changes since the project’s announcement, including new leadership and evolving business conditions, as reasons for discontinuing the campus construction. However, D’Amaro expressed optimism about the future of Walt Disney World, highlighting plans to invest $17 billion and generate 13,000 jobs over the next decade.

While the memo did not directly mention Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, sources familiar with the matter revealed that Disney’s clash with DeSantis and his allies in the Florida Legislature played a prominent role in the decision to cancel the Lake Nona project. The New York Times reported that DeSantis orchestrated a takeover of Disney’s self-governing district around Disney World after the company criticized a Florida education law known as “Don’t Say Gay” by critics.

Jeremy Redfern, a spokesperson for DeSantis, suggested that Disney’s financial challenges and declining stock price contributed to the cancellation, asserting that it was unsurprising for the company to restructure its operations and abandon unsuccessful ventures. Disney’s most recent quarter revenue stood at $21.8 billion, a 13% year-over-year increase, driven by strong growth in the division encompassing Walt Disney World and other theme parks, despite a decline in streaming service subscribers.

Lawmakers representing the Orlando area indirectly or directly attributed blame to Governor DeSantis. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings expressed disappointment, highlighting the need for an inclusive and collaborative environment between the state and the business community. State Representative Anna Eskamani criticized DeSantis, referring to him as a “job-killing moron” who prioritizes personal political ambitions and culture wars over the welfare of Florida and its future.

State Senator Joe Gruters, a Republican, acknowledged the significance of the loss of 2,000 jobs and a billion dollars’ worth of investments in the state. He urged an end to the conflict, emphasizing the importance of fostering a more cooperative relationship with Disney, which has been a key business and tourism partner for the past five decades. Gruters suggested that the market is better suited to deal with companies rather than implementing heavy-handed government measures.

The cancellation of the Lake Nona campus project, along with the announcement of the discontinuation of the Galactic Starcruiser immersive Star Wars hotel, is part of Disney CEO Bob Iger’s efforts to unwind decisions made by his predecessor, Bob Chapek, according to The New York Times.

Despite this setback, Walt Disney World remains a significant player in Florida’s economy, and its long-term investment plans demonstrate the company’s commitment to the region. The cancellation of the project underscores the complex relationship between Disney and the state government, which may have broader implications for future collaborations and initiatives in the area.