Disney Cancels Plans For $1 Billion Florida Expansion Amid Fight With DeSantis


Media giant Disney has canceled plans to create a $1 billion office park in Florida that the company estimated would have brought 2,000 jobs to the state amid its fight with governor Ron DeSantis. Disney CEO Bob Iger said on an earnings call recently that, in fighting Disney, DeSantis was potentially jeopardizing further investment from the House of Mouse. And on Thursday, the company showed that it was not bluffing.

The Florida project, known as Lake Nona Town Center, would have included a massive new complex. 1,000 workers from Disney’s Southern California offices were due to relocate, and a further 1,000 would join to work on Imagineering projects.

Some workers complained and threatened to quit over the prospect of being relocated (and some 200 reportedly already relocated). Disney pressed ahead, though, in part due to a Florida tax credit and the belief that Florida was a good place to do business.

Disney boss Josh D’Amaro said in an email obtained by The New York Times that “changing business conditions” led Disney to scuttle its plans for a new office in Florida. Although this new office park is not going ahead, Disney said it will still invest $17 billion in Florida over the next decade at its Disney World park that could create 13,000 jobs.

Sources told NYT that Disney’s public battle against DeSantis “figured prominently” in the decision to cancel the Lake Nona Town Center project. Disney workers who already moved from California to Florida will have meetings to discuss next steps, including the potential to move back.

The fight with DeSantis might not be the only reason Disney is canceling the Lake Nona Town Center. NYT reported that when Iger returned to Disney to become CEO again, he told his reports that it didn’t make sense to shift Imagineering so far away from Disney’s movie studios in California.

This is all happening as Disney attempts to cut $5.5 billion costs through a number of means, including laying off some 7,000 workers. Disney isn’t shrinking its workforce entirely, though, as the company just signed The Pat McAfee show to a lucrative deal.

Disney is suing DeSantis in part because the company believes DeSantis is trying to strip away Disney’s special Reedy Creek district as a means of retaliation for Disney’s opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” legislation in Florida.

“This is about one thing and one thing only, and that’s retaliating against us for taking a position about pending legislation. And we believe that in us taking that position, we are merely exercising our right to free speech. Also, this is not about special privileges or a level playing field or Disney in any way using its leverage around the state of Florida,” Iger said.

DeSantis is seeking to remove Disney’s “special district” status in Orlando. Walt Disney himself convinced Florida legislators back in the ’60s to give him a special district allowing the company to act semi-autonomously on its grounds when the entertainment legend was establishing EPCOT as a real city of the future. The city never panned out. But the Reedy Creek district and special status remained, and Disney has benefitted in a business sense for decades.

Iger pointed out that Florida has more than 2,000 of these special districts–the Daytona Motor Speedway being one of them. These special districts have allowed Disney and others to benefit financially by making it easier to do business. Iger said he recognizes this has been a beneficial thing for Disney, but he also pointed out that Disney’s parks in Florida employ over 75,000 people and attract “tens of millions” of people to Florida.

This case is far from over, so keep checking back with GameSpot for more.

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