Disney cancels plan to move 2,000 workers to Florida amid DeSantis fight

Guests wear masks as required to attend the official reopening day of the Magic Kingdom at Walt Disney World in Lake Buena Vista, Fla., Saturday, July 11, 2020. Disney reopened two Florida parks, the Magic Kingdom and Animal Kingdom, Saturday, with limited capacity and safety protocols in place in response to the coronavirus pandemic. (Joe Burbank/Orlando Sentinel via AP)

Guests visit the Magic Kingdom at Disney World in Florida. Walt Disney Co. has canceled its plans to create a new office space in the Orlando community of Lake Nona. (Joe Burbank / Associated Press)

Walt Disney Co. has canceled its plan to open a new Florida campus that would’ve relocated some 2,000 employees to the state, a change that comes as the company is engaged in a long brawl with the state’s Republican governor, Ron DeSantis.

The company in July 2021 said it planned to move staffers, including many theme park designers (known as Imagineers) and consumer products workers, to new office space in the Orlando community of Lake Nona to take advantage of roughly $570 million in tax breaks.

Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney’s parks, experiences and products division, on Thursday said in an email to staff that the relocation is no longer happening, citing “new leadership and changing business conditions.”

“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,” D’Amaro said. “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.”

While some employees have already moved to Central Florida, the plan faced considerable pushback from other workers, especially as the political climate in the state became openly hostile toward Disney and DeSantis embraced legislation that many people viewed as anti-LGBTQ+.

“For those who have already moved, we will talk to you individually about your situation, including the possibility of moving you back,” D’Amaro wrote.

The planned move was the source of significant animosity toward then-Chief Executive Bob Chapek. Disney’s board of directors fired Chapek in November, replacing him with the Burbank entertainment giant’s previous longtime leader, Bob Iger.

For more than a year, Disney has been feuding with DeSantis over the company’s opposition to the state’s law that bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation and gender identity.

Disney recently sued DeSantis for what it called a “campaign of government retaliation” to strip the company of its special privileges in the district that encompasses Walt Disney World. DeSantis earlier this year handpicked a new board for the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, which Disney previously controlled as essentially its own municipal government.

Disney outmaneuvered DeSantis’ incoming board by inking new development deals with the outgoing government body that significantly limited the new group’s power. The DeSantis-backed board last month voted to invalidate the agreements, prompting Disney to sue in federal court.

“I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business,” D’Amaro said in the email. “We have plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the next ten years. I hope we’re able to do so.”

When the campus was first announced, the move was expected to take 18 months, the company said at the time. But the project faced delays. In June 2022, Disney said the new offices were taking longer to finish than expected, with Disney anticipating an opening date of 2026, representing a roughly three-year holdup.

This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.

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