'Job killing moron'
Disney scraps $1 billion campus in Florida, citing 'changing business conditions'
The Walt Disney Co. announced Thursday that it has pulled the plug on a new campus near its Disney World theme park outside Orlando and will no longer relocate about 2,000 employees to Florida from Southern California. The project in Lake Nona Town Center was projected to cost $864 million when it was announced in 2021, but more recent estimates put the price tag closer to $1.3 billion.
"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," Josh D'Amaro, Disney's theme park and consumer products chairman, told employees. "I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business. We have plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the next 10 years. I hope we're able to do so."
D'Amaro's memo did not mention Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), "but the company's battle with the governor and his allies in the Florida Legislature figured prominently into Disney's decision to cancel the Lake Nona project," The New York Times reports, citing two people briefed on the matter. DeSantis, who is expected to launch a presidential run next week, engineered a takeover of Disney's self-governing district around Disney World in 2022 after Disney criticized a Florida education law dubbed Don't Say Gay by critics.
Jeremy Redfern, a DeSantis spokesman, suggested that "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." (Disney reported revenue of $21.8 billion in its most recent quarter, up 13 percent year-over-year, The Washington Post notes. "While the company's streaming services lost subscribers, the division that includes Walt Disney World and other theme parks saw particularly strong growth of 17 percent.")
Lawmakers representing the Orlando area implicitly or explicitly blamed DeSantis. "These are the consequences when there isn't an inclusive and collaborative work environment between the state of Florida and the business community," Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings lamented. State Rep. Anna Eskamani (D) called DeSantis "a job killing moron who cares more about his own political ambitions and culture wars than Florida and our future."
State Sen. Joe Gruters (R) said the loss of "2,000 jobs and a billion dollars worth of investments into our state" is "a serious blow," urging an end to "this conflict" so Florida can "get back to a more normal working relationship with a company that's been one of our best business and tourism partners that we've had over the last 50 years." The market, he added, "is much better at dealing with companies rather than heavy-handed government."
The decision to cancel the Lake Nona campus and the Galactic Starcruiser immersive Star Wars hotel, announced later Thursday, are also part of Disney CEO Bob Iger's unwinding of decisions made by his predecessor, Bob Chapak, the Times reports.