Disney backs out of plan to build massive employee campus in Florida

Walt Disney World is the biggest Central Florida employer because of its Walt Disney World theme park (Magic Kingdom, pictured). File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI
1 of 3 | Walt Disney World is the biggest Central Florida employer because of its Walt Disney World theme park (Magic Kingdom, pictured). File Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

May 18 (UPI) -- The Walt Disney Co. will not move forward with plans to build a massive new campus near Orlando, Fla., according to an internal memo.

The memo, obtained by the Orlando Sentinel and Los Angeles Times, cites "new leadership and changing business conditions" as the reasons behind the decision.


It does not mention the entertainment company's ongoing fight with Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, which has escalated ever since the entertainment giant criticized the governor's anti-LGBTQ policies and DeSantis responded by trying to gain control over the development board that governs the Walt Disney World theme park near Orlando.

In February, the governor approved legislation that gave him control of the Reedy Creek Development District, which has been renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District and populated with DeSantis political appointees.

In 2021, Disney had announced plans to build a major new campus in the city's Lake Nona planned neighborhood, with an estimated cost closing in on $1 billion. Construction had not yet started.

Once the Lake Nona Town Center was built, Disney would have moved approximately 2,000 workers to the new office space. Building in Florida would have come with about $570 million worth of tax incentives.


Disney paid $46.4 million for the 58-acre site that was planned for the campus, which would have housed Disney's creative team, Imagineers and other employees in jobs that Disney said had average yearly salaries of about $120,000.

"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," Disney Parks chair Josh D'Amaro said in the internal memo to employees.

"This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one. As a result, we will no longer be asking our employees to relocate. For those who have already moved, we will talk to you individually about your situation, including the possibility of moving you back."

Disney currently employs about 75,000 people in Florida, where it operates four theme parks and two water parks.

The decision did not go over well with some lawmakers in the Orlando area, with many placing the blame for Disney's decision on DeSantis.

"DeSantis is a job-killing moron who cares more about his own political ambitions and culture wars than Florida and our future. This is not who you want for president -- ever," State Rep. Anna V. Eskamini tweeted, after learning about the Disney decision.


DeSantis has been engaged in a public back and forth with Disney after passing Florida's so-called "don't say gay" law, which bans discussing sexual orientation or identity in the classroom.

California was quick to respond to Thursday's announcement.

"Disney, the door is open to bring those jobs back to California -- the state that actually represents the values of your workers," Gov. Gavin Newsom, D-Calif., tweeted Thursday afternoon.

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