Disney Scraps $1 Billion Office Complex in Orlando Amid DeSantis Feud
The Walt Disney Co. has scrapped plans to build a $1 billion office complex in Orlando, as the company continues to wage a political and legal battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.
In an email to employees on Thursday, Disney executive Josh D’Amaro said that “considerable changes,” including “new leadership” and “changing business conditions,” had led to the decision to cancel the project.
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Disney had planned to move 2,000 employees to the Lake Nona complex once it was complete, mostly from the Imagineering division. The company announced the project in 2021, and reports indicated it could have benefited from as much as $500 million in state tax incentives.
But that was before the “Don’t Say Gay” controversy severely damaged the company’s relationship with DeSantis and the state legislature in 2022.
Disney is now suing the governor in federal court, accusing him of violating its First Amendment rights by retaliating against it for opposing the Parental Rights in Education law.
Disney had already pushed back the timetable for the Lake Nona development to 2026. Many company employees resisted the move from California to Florida, and some quit. Those complaints grew louder amid the battle with DeSantis.
As a result of the decision, the company will no longer be asking employees to relocate. D’Amaro said the company would also work with employees who have already moved to Florida, and discuss the possibility of moving back.
Meanwhile, Disney still has plans to invest $17 million in the Orlando theme parks over the next decade. Those plans are somewhat in peril as the company fights with DeSantis over the governance of the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, which encompasses the Orlando resorts.
D’Amaro indicated in the memo that the theme park investments are in doubt, saying “I hope we’re able to do so.”
Disney controlled the district — formerly known as the Reedy Creek Improvement District — for 55 years, until DeSantis and the Legislature renamed it and put state appointees in charge in February. The company is trying to invalidate that change through its First Amendment suit. The DeSantis-backed governing board, meanwhile, is pursuing its own litigation to invalidate a series of development agreements Disney negotiated with the former board.
D’Amaro’s full email announcing the Lake Nona decision follows:
I wanted to let you know that we’ve just begun communication regarding our updated plans for the Lake Nona campus.
As many of you know, the company had decided to build a new Disney campus in Lake Nona and many Cast Members, Imagineers, and Employees were asked to commit to making a move to Florida. While some were excited about the new campus, I know that this decision and the circumstances surrounding it have been difficult for others.
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 move forward with construction of the campus. This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one. As a result, we will no longer be asking our employees to relocate. For those who have already moved, we will talk to you individually about your situation, including the possibility of moving you back.
It is clear to me that the power of this brand comes from our incredible people, and we are committed to handling this change with care and compassion. I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business. We have plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the next ten years. I hope we’re able to do so.
We are committed to our teams who call Central Florida home and to all of our Cast Members around the world, and I want to thank you for your continued dedication to Disney Parks, Experiences and Products and for delivering world-class entertainment for our Guests.
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