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Top One Magazine

Disney scuttles $1B Florida development plan amid feud with DeSantis

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. — Walt Disney Co. officially called off plans Thursday to develop a $1 billion complex in Orlando as the entertainment giant continues to clash with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The move, announced by chair of Disney’s parks Josh D’Amaro in a note to staff, nixes the possibility of some 2,000 Disney workers relocating to Florida as part of a plan that has been in the works for years to build new office space in a venue called Lake Nona, cashing in on a reported $570 million in tax breaks.

Disney officials didn’t mention DeSantis or their ongoing feud with the state in announcing the decision, instead claiming that “new leadership and changing business conditions” were behind the massive shift.

“This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one,” said D’Amaro in his email.

The scaling back comes amid a bitter fight — and legal battle — between Disney and Florida’s Republican leaders, spurred by the company’s public objections to a law restricting how sexual orientation can be taught in schools, known by critics as the “Don’t Say Gay” bill.

DeSantis, who is widely expected to run for president, has led the charge to crack down on Disney and other companies he considers “woke” operating in Florida. In the state’s heaviest move, Florida stripped Disney of its self-governing status over its Orlando theme parks — a power struggle currently playing out in federal court.

The governor received widespread praise from his supporters over his feud with the California-based Disney but also faced blowback from his detractors and potential presidential rivals, including former President Donald Trump and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie. On Thursday, Trump again attacked DeSantis over Disney, saying in a post on Truth Social that the governor “is being absolutely destroyed by Disney.”

Disney had eyed relocating scores of employees to Florida since 2021 in an idea from former CEO Bob Chapek. Some workers already made the cross-country move, which was a source of contention for many who raised concerns about setting up shop in the state.

Despite scuttling the Lake Nona plans, Disney officials said they still intend to invest $17 billion in Florida and create 13,000 jobs spanning the next decade. The company floated the possibility of employees who transitioned to Florida moving back to California. Disney is one of Florida’s biggest employers, with more than 70,000 employees at its theme parks near Orlando.

In a response to Disney’s move, the DeSantis administration said it had doubts the site would ever be developed.

“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,” Jeremy Redfern, press secretary for DeSantis, said in a statement. “Given the company’s financial straits, falling market cap and declining stock price, it is unsurprising that they would restructure their business operations and cancel unsuccessful ventures.”

As the fight between the company and governor simmers, Disney’s new CEO Bob Iger last week publicly questioned Florida’s interest in investing in the California-based company that has satellite offices across the world. “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes, or not?” Iger asked on a quarterly call with investors.

Democrats in Florida and California used Disney’s announcement to criticize the DeSantis administration, claiming that policies from the Republican-dominated Legislature are now having drastic consequences for the state.

“DeSantis is a job killing moron who cares more about his own political ambitions and culture wars than Florida and our future,” local state Rep. Anna Eskamani (D-Orlando) said in a statement. “This is not who you want for President — ever.”

Disney’s change of plans also led to more criticism from California Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat who has frequently tangled with the DeSantis administration.

“Turns out, bigoted policies have consequences,” Newsom wrote in a tweet. “That’s 2,000+ jobs that will be welcomed back with open arms to the Golden State.”

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