Disney cancels $1B Lake Nona move amid ongoing fight with Gov. DeSantis

Disney World
Disney parks leader says 'new leadership and changing business conditions' are why the company isn't relocating 2,000 employees to Florida anymore.

“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes or not?” Disney CEO Bob Iger asked during an earnings call last week as he addressed his company’s ongoing feud with Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Days later, The Walt Disney Co. followed through with that veiled threat and canceled a plan to relocate a California division of more than 2,000 Disney employees to Orlando.

Walt Disney Imagineering had been set to move to Lake Nona, a growing area of Orlando located about 20 miles from Disney World and is already home to the University of Central Florida’s medical school. The $1 billion Disney campus was set to open in 2026.

“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, Chair of Disney’s parks, experiences and products division, wrote in a memo Thursday to employees.

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

When reached for comment, Jeremy Redfern, a spokesperson for DeSantis’ Office, 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.”

Disney nixing the Florida expansion comes as the company has been embroiled in a bitter fight with DeSantis, who has targeted the company after Disney spoke out against last year’s Parental Rights in Education law, known by critics as “Don’t Say Gay.”

DeSantis pushed laws that gave him the power to take over Disney World’s governing board and appoint new members, allowing the state to inspect the monorail and nullify Disney’s development agreements with its old board before it took over.

That’s led to Disney, DeSantis and the Governor-appointed tourism board in charge of Disney World’s special taxing district being caught up in litigation. Disney has accused DeSantis and Republicans of retaliation for exercising its right to free speech.

Lake Nona’s developers are in talks with other groups to find a replacement so “we’re going to keep running,” said Rasesh Thakker, a Senior Managing Director of Tavistock Group, which developed Lake Nona, as he gave the keynote speech Thursday afternoon at Florida TaxWatch.

But Thakker also acknowledged that having Disney relocate the Imagineers to Orlando would “have have been great for the entire region. A rising tide lifts all boats, you know, but it’s something that we don’t control.”

The Walt Disney Co. is looking to expand its theme parks and build new rides in future years.

D’Amaro said he remains “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.”

Florida Politics reached out to DeSantis’ Office Thursday and did not immediately receive a response.

Several political leaders on the state and national scale jumped in to weigh in as the news broke Thursday.

Sen. Joe Gruters, a Republican from Sarasota who broke ranks to vote against the laws targeting Disney, called Thursday’s news a “huge loss for Florida.”

“Our state is still the best place to live, work and raise a family. I hope we can put an end to this ongoing conflict and get back to having a solid working relationship with one of our best business and tourism partners,” Gruters said.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom quickly jumped in on Twitter.

“Turns out, bigoted policies have consequences,” he wrote. “That’s 2,000+ jobs that will be welcomed back with open arms to the Golden State. Thank you for doing the right thing.”

Former President Donald Trump, who has been vocal in his attacks against DeSantis amid talk of the Governor’s ambitions to run for president, sent out an email Thursday with the subject line “President Trump is Always Right” alongside a screenshot of his April social media post taunting DeSantis and warning Disney will stop investing in Florida.

A pair of Central Florida Democrats also issued statements.

Rep. Anna Eskamani took aim at the Governor as a “job-killing moron who cares more about his own political ambitions and culture wars than Florida and our future.”

Sen. Linda Stewart called the news disappointing but said in a statement, “All industries continuously evaluate environments and economic factors when undertaking such large relocations, and today’s announcement is understandable given the business climate we are in as a state.”

Gabrielle Russon

Gabrielle Russon is an award-winning journalist based in Orlando. She covered the business of theme parks for the Orlando Sentinel. Her previous newspaper stops include the Sarasota Herald-Tribune, Toledo Blade, Kalamazoo Gazette and Elkhart Truth as well as an internship covering the nation’s capital for the Chicago Tribune. For fun, she runs marathons. She gets her training from chasing a toddler around. Contact her at [email protected] or on Twitter @GabrielleRusson .


  • Michael K

    May 18, 2023 at 3:24 pm

    Way to go Ron! Just what Florida and the rest of America is wanting!

    • Ron Be Gone

      May 18, 2023 at 3:26 pm

      You forgot the /s…unless you really believe that bs.

      • Michael K

        May 18, 2023 at 3:37 pm

        Always best to leave performative theater to the artistic professionals. Can’t wait to see how his sycophants in the legislature spin this one.

        • Dont Say FLA

          May 18, 2023 at 3:42 pm

          Rhonda’s response will again be something along the sour grapes line he uses every time this happens: “They were all college educated and/or trans drag queens, so we didn’t want them here in Fleur Duh anyways.”

  • Dont Say FLA

    May 18, 2023 at 3:24 pm

    Never Back Down, even if it means you lose your constituents a billion dollar investment. Rhonda wins again, LOL, ROFL, and Never Bend Over. I bet Rhonda is tired of so much winning.

  • Ron Be Gone

    May 18, 2023 at 3:25 pm

    Open for business my backside.

    Elect clowns, expect a circus. Hopefully it won’t take too many years to recover from all the damage DeathSantis is doing right now.

    • Goodbye Florida, it was nice while it lasted.

      May 18, 2023 at 4:03 pm

      It will never be repaired.
      The stuff that DeSantis is doing now will have negative effects that will last generations. No hyperbole.

      The cocktail he’s created of illegal abortion, more widely available guns, sky rocketing cost of living and insurance, poor wages, and destroying the fabric of our education system will have extremely dire consequences for the future of this state.

      If you’re not thinking of leaving, you’re a fool.
      Florida will soon the California of the East coast, and is going to see a big outflow of people leaving a sinking ship. I plan to be one of them.

  • JD

    May 18, 2023 at 3:27 pm

    This one measure was to bring 2000 jobs at an average salary of $120,000 to the Orlando proper. That is annually $240M now not housed within Florida, and not pumping large chunks of hard earned, clean, money into the economy.

    But Golly Gee Whiz, we were saved from some child wanting to change his preferred pronoun. Don’t forget that higher insurance rate is the price you pay to prevent grooming from happening.

    “It’s not the heat. It’s the Stupidity”

  • Mercury Shampoo Ed 👍

    May 18, 2023 at 3:28 pm

    Republicans killing business with their political stunts. In 2020, they killed Ashli Babbitt with their political stunts. Can’t imagine why the GOP just won’t go ahead and clean the party of these far right trouble makers and religious whackos. Quite possibly they’ve given up on obtaining the presidency.

    • Dont Say FLA

      May 18, 2023 at 3:38 pm

      Ashey Blabbit is dead, but she’s the absolute least important of all the people killed by the MAGA-GOP nuts that day. Capitol police officers died. Let’s not forget Pulse nightclub either, 49 more murders brought to us by MAGA style fear of gays and drag queens. The Pulse killer’s excuse was his Islamic religion, but fear of gays is fear of gays. MAGA terrorists and Islamic terrorists, both are the exact same shit. They are mirrors of each other. Anybody wants to MAGA, they might as well be arguing for Sharia. It’s the same shit.

  • Don’t Look Up

    May 18, 2023 at 3:57 pm

    This is SO disappointing but somewhat expected. I know of two women owned businesses that also are pulling their plans to open offices in Florida. Florida is not business friendly.

  • Ron DeSantis wears High Heels

    May 18, 2023 at 3:58 pm

    This man-child’s fragile little ego is actually costing Floridians money & jobs now.

    If you’re still a DeSantis supporter, I have just one thing to say to you: 🖕

  • Your Jewish Daddy

    May 18, 2023 at 4:00 pm

    Bwahahaha hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahaahaahahahahahahahahahahahahaha


    Dumb Christians, keep ducking with us! ✡️

  • corruption and abuse of power in Florida

    May 18, 2023 at 4:09 pm

    Bob Iger doesn’t play . He does what he says he’s going to do and he also recognizes that his employees would be in danger by moving to Florida.

    • Impeach Biden

      May 18, 2023 at 4:20 pm

      Ha! Ha! Send me back to Kalifornia. I could care less. Newsom needs a bump in his tax basis out there.. Those Democrats want reparations in a free state nonetheless. Again, bye bye.

      • Impeach Biden

        May 18, 2023 at 4:20 pm

        Send them

  • Pastor Pasta

    May 18, 2023 at 4:25 pm

    Looks like we’re firmly in the “finding out” phase of Lil’ D’s term in office. Meanwhile, my insurance premiums continue to balloon and my legislature is more concerned about books about gay penguins in schools. Florida is sooooo f*cked.

Comments are closed.


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