The Walt Disney Company has scrapped plans to open an employee campus in Lake Nona and move more than 2,000 employees from California to Florida.
Over the past two years or so, Disney’s plans to build a creative employee campus in Lake Nona have been rocky. In June 2021, The Walt Disney Company announced the relocation of 2,000 employees from Anaheim to Lake Nona. The plan initially received pushback from employees who were given little to no say in their relocation. Some employees left; others transitioned into roles that would not require relocation. By March 2022, the plan had become controversial given political tensions between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. DeSantis signed a bill removing Disney’s self-governing authority over its 40-square-mile property. This bill goes into effect in June 2023.
Tensions with DeSantis continue to rise. In April, DeSantis announced plans to subject Disney to ride inspection regulations. In attempts to protect itself, Disney sued DeSantis and a five-member board for what the company referred to as “a targeted campaign of government retaliation.” In the lawsuit filed in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida, Disney accused DeSantis of weaponizing government power against it in retaliation for expressing a political viewpoint. In their complaint, Disney said that “In America, the government cannot punish you for speaking your mind.” Disney had criticized the Parental Rights in Education law (“Don’t Say Gay”) which prohibits discussion sexual orientation and gender identity for students.
On a conference call with analysts earlier this month, Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive rhetorically said, “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?” The planned investment was on the line.
Around Mid-May, Iger and Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park and products chairman, officially pulled the plug on the plan. In an email, D’Amaro told employees that the company had decided not to move forward with the Orlando campus, citing “new leadership and changing business conditions” as the catalyst. D’Amaro said employees who already moved to Florida will be able to stay or relocate back to California given the cancelation of the project.
While D’Amaro’s memo did not mention DeSantis directly, The New York Times reports that people briefed on the decision said that Disney’s dispute with DeSantis “figured prominently” in the decision to cancel the project.
According to The New York Times, a spokesperson for DeSantis said in an email: “Disney announced the possibility of a Lake Nona campus nearly two years ago. Nothing ever came of the project, and the state was unsure whether it would come to fruition. Given the company’s financial straits, falling market cap and declining stock price, it is unsurprising that they would restructure their business operations and cancel unsuccessful ventures.”
The project would have brought more than 2,000 jobs to the Orlando/Lake Nona area with an average salary of $120,000. The project was estimated to cost anywhere from $864 million to $1.3 billion. Disney still hopes to invest $17 billion in Florida over the next 10 years, potentially creating about 13,000 jobs.
Disney communications and Tavistock did not respond to our request for comment.