Disney has just announced a major update on a BILLION dollar construction project it had planned for the Orlando area.
Some time ago, Disney announced plans for a new campus in Lake Nona, a suburb of Orlando, FL. It was expected that the project could cost $1.3 billion to build (according to the Orlando Business Journal) and it was set to become home to a “regional campus” for THOUSANDS of Disney employees (some would relocate from California to Florida). The timeline for the project had been extended previously but now it’s hit a major stopping point.
According to The New York Times, Disney CEO Bob Iger and Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Josh D’Amaro have officially called the Lake Nona project. That’s right, the $1 billion office complex that was set to be built in Orlando is no more.
As the Times points out, the project would have brought more than 2,000 jobs to the area, and more than 1,000 employees from Southern California (including most of the Imagineering department) would have relocated to this new campus.
D’Amaro initially cited Florida’s “business-friendly climate” when the move was announced in 2021. But in a recent email sent to employees, D’Amaro talked about “changing business conditions” and noted that those changes were behind the cancelation of the Lake Nona project.
D’Amaro once again reiterated that $17 BILLION is expected to be invested in construction at Disney World over the next decade (which is something we’ve heard Disney talk about before). It’s anticipated that this investment could bring 13,000 jobs to the area. In talking about that investment, D’Amaro wrote “I hope we’re able to.”
Two people briefed on the matter who spoke with the New York Times on condition of anonymity shared that Disney’s battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis “figured prominently” into Disney’s decision to cancel the Lake Nona project.
Disney’s battles with DeSantis began back when it made a statement against the Parental Rights in Education bill and the Company’s desire that the bill be repealed or struck down. Since then, Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District has been dramatically changed (removing much of Disney’s control), DeSantis has signed legislation that will subject the Disney World monorail to state inspections, and the Company is in the middle of 2 lawsuits (one federal and one state) involving the Reedy Creek issues.
Most recently, Iger fired back at DeSantis and asked this question: “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay taxes, or not?”
UPDATE: A DeSantis spokesperson has commented on the situation. According to Deadline, DeSantis’ press secretary said “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…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.”
Another change has hit the Walt Disney Company in recent months that may have impacted this project as well — the return of current CEO Bob Iger. The Lake Nona campus was one championed by former CEO Bob Chapek. The Times reports that Iger had been “less enthusiastic” about the project, even before the Company’s battles with DeSantis.
Reportedly, as soon as Iger returned he started to insist that it made little sense to move Imagineering so far from Disney’s movie studios in California.
And let us not forget that Disney is in the middle of carrying out plans to cut $5.5 BILLION in spending.
Thus far, around 200 Disney employees have relocated to Florida from California. D’Amaro has shared that Disney will talk to them about options including the possibility of moving them back.
We will continue to look for updates, but for now, it seems the Lake Nona project is no longer happening, though other investments planned for Disney World are still expected to take place if, as D’Amaro seems to indicate, Disney is able to do them.
UPDATE: Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings has issued a statement on the issue. In a press release, he shared, “It is unfortunate that Disney will not be moving forward with construction of the Lake Nona campus. However, these are the consequences when there isn’t an inclusive and collaborative work environment between the state of Florida and the business community. We will continue to work closely with our valued partners at Disney.”
UPDATE: According to ABC Action News, Jeff Vahle, President of Walt Disney World Resort, has issued a statement on the cancelation of the project. He shared that since the project was first announced, “several dynamics have changed, including a change in company leadership and evolving economic and business conditions.”
He noted that Disney’s plans call for them to invest $17 billion in Disney World over the next 10 years. He said, “We hope those plans will become a future reality.” He continued, “For decades, we have operated our business responsibly and being the region’s largest taxpayer, we paid and collected over $1.1 billion in state and local taxes during last year alone. As the largest single-site employer in Central Florida, we are deeply rooted in this community, and we continue to make investments for the betterment of our region.”
He concluded by saying, “While today’s decision was not easy, we remain committed to our Cast Members as well as you and our wonderful community.”
For more about Iger’s statements surrounding the DeSantis conflict, click here. And stay tuned for more Disney news.
They said nothing to do with Governor DeSantis. This was in the works well before any of the drama Disney has created. Regarding the school bills passed in Florida. Please be accurate in your reporting as this lake Nona project originated when they were moving the California imagineers to Florida. The people from California bought houses here and then all of a sudden Disney decided not to move them. We all need to stop creating drama that foments hate and division.
Pretty funny they blame it on DeSantis. Fact is they Disney canceled because everyone said they would quit 😂
Of course the media & Disney are going to twist this as a DeSantis blame situation when, in fact, Disney has made MAJOR poor financial decisions (Star Wars hotel, bombed movies, Disney+) & simply can’t afford to or has decided to cut back another project (DVC hotel on the old River Country, Mary Poppins, etc).
Going to be a few lawsuits on this. Disappointed developers who probably bought land and maybe started building. Businesses who located or relocated (restaurants, retail etc). Upset employees looking forward to getting out of California, who might have spent money checking out the area or even putting deposits of new homes. Is Disney trying to “punish” Florida or destroy the company image. Looks like both might happen. Disney shareholder.
This is no surprise. This was purely a business decision and has been in the works for quite some time. There is a reason why very little progress has been made on Disney’s Lake Nona campus. Disney is losing its shirt on Disney+. When Disney is busy laying off thousands of workers, why would it want to build a new compass for its employees? This campus was going to be a cost center for mostly back office operations. It would have saved Disney millions of dollars in taxes and operating costs, but directly produced no revenue for the company. Disney needs to invest in assets that directly produce venue and learn how to stop the bleeding with Disney+, or this company is going to have some serious financial problems in the future. The bulk of the employees who have already moved to Florida are very happy in Florida. They were able to purchase a large home at a reasonable cost and pay no state income taxes, not to mention the other amenities Florida has to offer.
Rich A says
This is just a business decision, but the Democrats are going to use it repeatedly to make DeSantis look bad and people will believe it. The same people who didn’t mind when AOC killed the Amazon distribution center in her district will tout this as a huge DeSantis failure. Funny how things just go one way nowadays.
It was not something that was probably going to happen anyway.
Randi Briggs says
Kelly, I appreciate you reporting on this issue very fairly. Nice job. It’s not often we see both sides represented in any news story. Thank you.
If only the Disney management would learn to stay out of politics. Your objective should be to entertain people, not to take political sides. Disney should be run the way Walt would have wanted it to be run. Keep up his dream, not turn it into a disaster.
Laying off thousands, closing Star TreK hotel, Disney+ losing millions and now ending the Lake Nona project. All telling signs things are not going well at Disney.
This is very interesting, what there not telling you is this is not new , this project has been on the books for a long time , this is a political move to shift Disney’s Financial shortcomings to make it look like there retaliating against The Desantis in actuality Disney been aggressively laying off cast members and restructuring departments due to revenue issues , this Billion Dollar project is a direct result of there Less then idea financial crisis and has nothing to do with Desantis other then to cast disparage on his President run .
Even for Disney this is pathetic and an attempt to interfere in elections.
Most likely this project was canceled because it was a Chapek project, and not because if the current political environment. But it is convenient to make it political,
The right decision needed to be made. DeSantis just can’t get over it.
Zach Smith says
Thank you for writing this article with, what I felt was, a completely neutral political stance. This was by far the best article at explaining the facts surrounding the situation and nothing more.
Thank you for your unbiased reporting. Your ability to present both sides of the story without adding disparaging adjectives and/or personal opinions disguised as “news” is refreshing and greatly appreciated. : )
DFB Gigi says
Thank you so much for your kind words, Cheryl. I made sure to pass them along to the writer. 🙂
DFB Gigi says
Thank you so much for your kind words, Zach! I made sure to pass your comment along to the writer. 🙂
Ditto KMAN comment.
Perhaps most of the commenters on this page either work fro DeSantis or are on his campaign staff. Good luck to you. I’m smiling at you Jim, I live in California and NOBODY in California is “looking forward” to moving to florida…unless they are the type looking to invest in swamp land.
Perhaps you shouldn’t jump to conclusions regarding political agenda. The California -Florida pipeline was doomed from the start.
Forced relocation then abandoning the project after uprooting families was a disaster.
And by the way, I’m a Disney customer from out of state…go at least twice a year and no I don’t have an axe to grind
A pretty balanced well written article. The only thing that was missing was the $600 million in tax incentives the state of Florida had already approved to give Disney for the project. I think this comment in the article sums it up pretty good . “ Reportedly, as soon as Iger returned he started to insist that it made little sense to move Imagineering so far from Disney’s movie studios in California.” So with all the cost cutting going on and since this was former CEO Chapeks project , easy to cut this project. You do not leave that big of a tax credit on the table unless you really do not want the project.