Dear Commons Community,
Disney has cancelled a new office complex, which would have created more than 2,000 jobs, because of “changing business conditions” based in part on the feud with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. As reported by The New York Times.
In March, Disney called Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida “anti-business” for his scorched-earth attempt to tighten oversight of the company’s theme park resort near Orlando. Last month, when Disney sued the governor and his allies for what it called “a targeted campaign of government retaliation,” the company made clear that $17 billion in planned investment in Walt Disney World was on the line.
“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?” Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said on an earnings-related conference call with analysts last week.
Yesterday, Mr. Iger and Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park and consumer products chairman, showed that they were not bluffing, pulling the plug on an office complex that was scheduled for construction in Orlando at a cost of roughly $1 billion. It would have brought more than 2,000 Disney jobs to the region, with $120,000 as the average salary, according to an estimate from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
The project, near Lake Nona Town Center, was supposed to cost $864 million, but recent price estimates have been closer to $1.3 billion. Disney had planned to relocate as many as 2,000 employees from Southern California, including most of a department known as Imagineering, which works with Disney’s movie studios to develop theme park attractions.
Most of the affected employees complained bitterly about having to move — some quit — but Disney held firm, partly because of a Florida tax credit that would have allowed the company to recoup as much as $570 million over 20 years for building and occupying the complex.
When he announced the project in 2021, Mr. D’Amaro cited “Florida’s business-friendly climate” as justification.
Mr. D’Amaro’s tone in an email to employees on Thursday was notably chillier. He cited “changing business conditions” as a reason for canceling the Lake Nona project. “I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business,” Mr. D’Amaro said in the memo. He noted that $17 billion was still earmarked for construction at Disney World over the next decade — growth that would create an estimated 13,000 jobs. “I hope we’re able to,” he said.
The memo, which was viewed by The New York Times, did not mention Mr. DeSantis. 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, according to two people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. A spokeswoman for Mr. Iger said he was not available for an interview.
Florida officials have repeatedly pointed to the Lake Nona development as an example of economic vibrancy in Orlando, which suffered mightily during the pandemic. Noting that hotel chains and retailers were moving into the Lake Nona area in anticipation of Disney’s arrival, The Orlando Business Journal in January called the complex “a major economic driver for the region.”
In a statement, Jerry L. Demings, the mayor of Orange County, which includes Orlando, said it was “unfortunate” that Disney canceled its plans. “However, these are the consequences when there isn’t an inclusive and collaborative work environment between the state of Florida and the business community,” Mr. Demings said.
Gov. Gavin Newsom of California thanked Disney. “That’s 2,000+ jobs that will be welcomed back with open arms to the Golden State,” Mr. Newsom said on Twitter.
California gains and Florida loses!