In June 2021, The Walt Disney Company announced the relocation of 2,000 Imagineers and other professionals from Anaheim, California, to Lake Nona.
The Lake Nona project would house Walt Disney Imagineers and more professionals in the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products division who are not fully or exclusively dedicated to working on Disneyland in California. The Walt Disney company purchased land in Lake Nona for $46 million to create a 60-acre regional campus with 1.8 million square feet of development. Construction of the regional campus was initially expected to be completed in November 2022 alongside the construction of an age-restricted community in Sunbridge to alleviate concerns about housing availability. According to Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, the relocation of these 2,000 employees was to take place in the 18 months following the announcement. However, since this news broke, the relocation has faced some challenges.
The announcement of the relocation was met with pushback from Imagineers who were informed about whether their job would be relocated in the weeks following. Those whose jobs would be moved to Lake Nona were given 90 days to inform Human Resources about their decision to either retire, move or find a new job. If no decision was made, employees received an email from HR stating, “Because no response was received by the 90 day deadline of December 8, 2021, we assume you have decided not to accept relocation to Florida. We know this was a difficult decision and encourage you to continue to have conversations with your leader on next steps.”
By March 2022, the relocation had become controversial given political tensions between Disney’s former CEO, Bob Chapek, and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Chapek initially came under fire after Disney donated to sponsors of the Parental Rights in Education Bill (deemed the Don’t Say Gay Bill by critics). However, Chapek eventually issued a statement and committed to oppose the bill during a shareholder meeting. In response, DeSantis signed a bill dissolving the Reedy Creek Agreement, which removes Disney’s self-governing status starting in June 2023.
In June 2022, The Walt Disney Company officially announced the years-long delay on the relocation to Lake Nona, saying, “While a growing number of our employees, who will ultimately work at the campus, have already made the move to Central Florida, we also want to continue to provide flexibility to those relocating, especially given the anticipated completion date of the campus is now in 2026. Therefore, where possible, we are aligning the relocation period with the campus completion.”
By November 2022, the board of the Walt Disney Company fired Chapek as CEO and announced the return of Bob Iger. At this point, Iger stated in a Cast Member meeting that he had not made a decision and would look into the potential ramifications of relocating versus staying in California.
Fast forwarding to December 2022, the plans to relocate to Lake Nona seem to be back in business. At a December 8 conference called “Lake Nona Mastermind: The Future of Lake Nona,” Jessi Blakley, Vice President of Tavistock Development Company, indicated that plans for Disney’s relocation to Florida are moving forward. While Blakley could not share much, she indicated that there will be news in the coming months regarding this project.