Disney Abandons $1 Billion Florida Investment Amidst Feud with Governor DeSantis
In a surprising turn of events, The Walt Disney Co. has announced its withdrawal from a significant investment project in Florida, citing “changing business conditions.” The media and entertainment giant’s decision comes amidst a year-long feud with Florida’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis, which escalated after Disney publicly opposed his bill to restrict instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity in public schools.
Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products, Josh D’Amaro, relayed the news to Disney employees through a memo, stating that the company will not proceed with its plans to construct a new Disney campus in Lake Nona.
Interestingly, this decision comes just days before Governor DeSantis is expected to announce his presidential campaign. The editorial board of the Miami Herald criticized the governor, suggesting that national voters should perceive Disney’s cancellation as a warning sign. They emphasized the negative impact on the state, stating, “Floridians are the losers here. We’ve lost jobs and investment, and we could lose even more, all because DeSantis picked a petty fight with Disney.”
The scrapped Lake Nona project was intended to include multiple buildings, employing 2,000 Disney workers who would be relocated from California to Florida. This decision aligns with Disney’s cost-cutting measures, which aim to reduce expenses by more than $5 billion. CEO Bob Iger has been focused on a transformative strategy for the company. However, during an investor conference call, Iger expressed concerns about the deteriorating relationship with Florida, which led to Disney filing a lawsuit against DeSantis, alleging government retaliation.
Iger raised questions regarding the state’s willingness to attract investments, create employment opportunities, and generate tax revenue. He highlighted Disney’s significant contribution to Central Florida, mentioning that the company paid over $1.1 billion in state and local taxes last year, solidifying its position as the largest taxpayer in the region.
In response, Governor DeSantis’ office downplayed the significance of Disney’s withdrawal, stating that the Lake Nona project had been uncertain for nearly two years. They attributed Disney’s decision to their financial challenges, declining stock price, and restructuring efforts. However, as recently as March, Disney was moving forward with development plans, receiving approval from the Orlando Development Review Committee.
The Lake Nona project, which was expected to add 1.8 million square feet of office space, was highly anticipated in the Orlando area. It would have accommodated Disney’s Imagineering department, responsible for creating theme park attractions.
The memo from D’Amaro alluded to Disney’s plans to invest $17 billion in Florida over the next decade, promising job creation and significant economic growth for the Orlando region. However, the message also expressed uncertainty about Disney’s commitment, leaving room for doubt.
Disney’s lawsuit against Governor DeSantis claims that his actions jeopardize the company’s economic future in the region. The conflict arose when DeSantis sought control of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which governs the Walt Disney World resort area. The governor reconstituted the entity as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and appointed new members, raising concerns about potential taxes on Disney’s hotels, tolls on its roads, or even the construction of a prison next to the theme park.
As the battle between Disney and the Florida governor intensifies, the outcome remains uncertain. The consequences of this dispute reach far beyond the two entities involved, affecting the state’s economy and the livelihoods of thousands of workers. Only time will reveal the ultimate impact of this strained relationship on both Disney and the state of Florida.