Disney has abandoned plans to open a new campus for employees in Lake Nona, Florida, amid rising tensions with the state governor.
Citing «changing business conditions» and the return of CEO Bob Iger, Josh D’Amaro, president of Disney’s parks, experiences and products division, wrote a memo to employees Thursday announcing that the company will not move forward with the campus construction and will no longer require more than 2,000 California employees to relocate to Florida.
“It wasn’t an easy decision to make, but I think it’s the right one,” D’Amaro told the employees.
Many Disney employees opposed the company’s relocation plans when former CEO Bob Chapek first announced them in July 2021. While some left the company or went on to other roles within Disney that didn’t require moving to Florida, others were hoping the plan would fizzle out after a postponement. The campus was originally scheduled to open in 2022-2023, but was later pushed back to 2026.
Disney is headquartered in Burbank, California, but operates several satellite offices around the country and around the world.
D’Amaro said employees who have already moved to Florida could relocate to California.
“It is clear to me that the power of this brand comes from our incredible people, and we are committed to managing this change with care and compassion,” he said.
Disney’s announcement comes amid a bitter dispute between the company and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The company filed a lawsuit accusing DeSantis and new board members from his special district of running a political retribution campaign against the entertainment giant.
DeSantis took aim at Disney’s special district, formerly called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, after the company publicly criticized a controversial Florida bill, dubbed «Don’t Say Gay» by critics, that limits discussion of sexual orientation and identity of gender in the classroom.
The special district has allowed the entertainment giant to effectively self-govern the operations of its Orlando parks for decades. The district was ultimately left intact, but its five-member board was replaced by picks from DeSantis and it was renamed the Central Florida Tourism Supervisory District.
Disney filed its lawsuit in late April after the new board voted to undo development contracts the company said it signed to secure its investments. The company has since updated that lawsuit to include recently passed legislation targeting its monorail system. as additional proof of the governor’s retaliation.
Iger has publicly criticized DeSantis and the Florida government, noting that Disney has created thousands of indirect jobs, brings about 50 million visitors to Florida each year, and is the largest taxpayer in the state.
D’Amaro reiterated in his memo that the company still plans to invest $17 billion in Florida over the next 10 years, including creating about 13,000 jobs. The company currently employs more than 75,000 people in the state.
Disney declined to provide specific updates on that investment, but previously announced plans to upgrade the park’s attractions, expand existing parks and add more cruise ships to its Florida fleet.
“I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business,” D’Amaro told employees.