Disney cancels plans for $1.3b campus, 2,000 jobs in Florida

LOS ANGELES – Walt Disney Co is scrapping plans to build a nearly US$1 billion (S$1.35 billion) corporate campus in central Florida that would have housed 2,000 employees, according to an e-mail to employees on Thursday.

The decision comes against the backdrop of its ongoing legal battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis.

Disney parks chief Josh D’Amaro said “changing business conditions” prompted Disney to reconsider its 2021 plan to relocate employees, including its Imagineers who design theme park rides, to a new campus in Lake Nona.

The company was expected to spend as much as US$864 million on the project, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

The campus would have served as a base for Walt Disney Imagineering and the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products division.

Disney’s decision to move the California-based Imagineering staffers across the country drew complaints from employees, many of whom said they did not want to move to Florida.

“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,” Mr D’Amaro wrote. “This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one.”

A week ago, Disney CEO Bob Iger publicly questioned Florida’s interest in the company’s continued investment in the state. In a call with investors to discuss quarterly results, he noted that Disney employed more than 75,000 people in Florida, attracts millions of visitors each year to Walt Disney World and had plans to invest US$17 billion to expand the resort over the next decade.

“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?,” Mr Iger asked.

Mr DeSantis’s press secretary, Jeremy T. Redfern, wrote that while 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”.

Mr Redfern wrote that given the company’s financial position, “it is unsurprising that they would restructure their business operations and cancel unsuccessful ventures”.

Disney and Mr DeSantis have been locked in an increasingly acrimonious battle that started in March 2022, when Disney’s then-CEO, Bob Chapek, criticised legislation in Florida that would limit discussion of gender identity and sexuality in elementary schools.

Mr DeSantis, who is expected to soon announce that he will seek the 2024 Republican nomination for US president, then moved to strip Disney of its long-standing self-governing power over Walt Disney World in Orlando.

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