Disney Pulls Plug on $1 Billion Development in Florida (2023)


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A new office complex, and relocation of a division from California, would have created more than 2,000 jobs but was scuttled as the company and Gov. Ron DeSantis continue to feud.

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    (Video) Disney Pulls Plug On $1 BILLION Florida Development

Disney Pulls Plug on $1 Billion Development in Florida (1)

By Brooks Barnes

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.

On Thursday, 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.

(Video) Disney scraps $1 billion Florida development plan amid tensions with DeSantis

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.

A spokesman for Mr. DeSantis said in an email: “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.”

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.

Disney has already incurred millions of dollars in expenses related to the project, including relocation costs for about 200 employees who have already moved to Florida from California. Mr. D’Amaro said in his note that the company would discuss options with those workers, “including the possibility of moving you back.” (It was not clear whether any of the people who quit rather than moved would have the chance to return to their jobs.) The Lake Nona project had initially been scheduled to open next year. Last July, Disney pushed back the move-in date to 2026, citing pandemic-related construction delays.

The Lake Nona campus, about 20 miles from Disney World near the Orlando International Airport, had been championed by Bob Chapek, who served as Disney’s chief executive from 2020 until he was fired last year. Mr. Iger, who came out of retirement to retake Disney’s reins, was much less enthusiastic about the project — even before the company became mired in its battle with Mr. DeSantis. As soon as he returned to Disney, Mr. Iger began telling lieutenants, for instance, that it made little sense to move Imagineering so far away from Disney’s movie studios. As he is fond of saying, “Creative teams need to be together.”

Mr. Iger has been systematically reversing Mr. Chapek’s decisions. In February, for instance, he announced that Disney would restructure its inner workings, ending a framework put in place by Mr. Chapek. In March, as part of wide-ranging layoffs, Mr. Iger shut down a 50-person metaverse project that Mr. Chapek had started.

Disney is also in the midst of cutting $5.5 billion in costs as it seeks to improve profitability, pay down debt and restore its dividend. Later on Thursday, for instance, Disney said it would close an underperforming luxury hotel at Disney World. The 100-room property, announced in 2017 and opened last year, simulated a two-night trip on a “Star Wars” spaceship. Bookings started at $6,000 for a family of four; the price limited interest. Disney spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build and market the immersive offering, which it called the Galactic Starcruiser.

Disney shares closed at about $94 on Thursday, down about 45 percent from two years ago.

Mr. DeSantis and Disney have been sparring for more than a year over a special tax district that encompasses Disney World. The fight started when the company criticized a Florida education law that opponents labeled “Don’t Say Gay” because it limits classroom instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation — angering Mr. DeSantis, who repeatedly vowed payback.

Since then, Florida legislators, at the urging of Mr. DeSantis, have targeted Disney — the state’s largest taxpayer — with a variety of hostile measures. In February, they ended Disney’s long-held ability to self-govern its 25,000-acre resort as if it were a county by giving Mr. DeSantis control over government services at the resort.

(Video) Disney pulls plug on $1 billion project in Florida amid feud with DeSantis | LiveNOW from FOX

It was soon discovered that the previous, Disney-controlled board had approved development contracts that lock in a growth plan for the resort. An effort to void those agreements has since resulted in dueling lawsuits, with Disney suing Mr. DeSantis and his allies in federal court and the governor’s tax district appointees returning fire in state court.

A correction was made on

May 18, 2023


An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the Lake Nona project that Disney had planned in Orlando, Fla. The project is near Lake Nona Town Center, not known by that name.

A correction was made on

May 19, 2023


An earlier version of this articlemisstated the name of a luxury hotel that Disney plans to shutter. It is the Galactic Starcruiser, not the Galactic Starship.

How we handle corrections

Brooks Barnes is a media and entertainment reporter, covering all things Hollywood. He joined The Times in 2007 as a business reporter focused primarily on the Walt Disney Company. He previously worked for The Wall Street Journal. @brooksbarnesNYT

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Disney Pulls Plug on $1 Billion Development in Florida? ›

On Thursday, 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.

What did Disney pull out of Florida? ›

The Lake Nona complex would have included several buildings employing 2,000 Disney workers that would have been relocated from California to Florida. The decision to scrap the Lake Nona campus also comes as Disney cuts more than $5 billion in costs, with CEO Bob Iger seeking a "transformation."

What project did Disney cancel in Florida? ›

While not addressed explicitly in the email, The New York Times reported that Disney's feud with DeSantis factored into the company's decision to cancel the Lake Nona project. Florida offers several tax incentives for businesses with the hope that those businesses will boost the economy.

How did Disney buy all the land in Florida? ›

In 1964, Walt Disney began secretly buying millions of dollars worth of Central Florida farmland. As vast areas of land were purchased in lots of 5,000 acres here, 20,000 there -- at remarkably high prices -- rumors flew as to who needed so much land and had the money to acquire it.

How much did Disney pay for the land in Florida? ›

In all, the company purchased 27,400 acres for more than $5 million from 51 landowners. The average price of the land after the deal completed was $182 an acre.

When did Disney break ground in Florida? ›

Magic Kingdom was the first theme park to open in the complex in 1971, followed by Epcot (1982), Disney's Hollywood Studios (1989), and Disney's Animal Kingdom (1998).

What is the new Disney project in Florida? ›

The Walt Disney Co. announced Thursday that it was scrapping plans to build a new campus in central Florida and relocate 2,000 employees from Southern California to work in digital technology, finance and product development. The decision follows a year of attacks from Gov.

What is Disney getting rid of in 2023? ›

As many of you already know, Splash Mountain permanently closed on January 23rd, 2023. Although we were sad to say goodbye, the same flume-type ride is currently being reimagined to become Tiana's Bayou Adventure, which is set to open in late 2024!

What will happen to Disney World in 2023? ›

It was announced that a brand-new nighttime spectacular will come to the World Showcase Lagoon at EPCOT in late 2023 as part of the Disney100 Celebration. This new show is replacing Harmonious, which is expected to end its run in spring 2023.

What company did Disney shut down? ›

Disney to Shut Down 'Star Wars' Galactic Starcruiser Hotel

Less than 18 months after Disney opened its first “Star Wars” themed hotel in Orlando, Fla., to much fanfare, the company has confirmed Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser is set to cease operations.

Is Disney the largest landowner in Florida? ›

As the largest landowner in the region, which was recently renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, Disney maintained a de facto control over the previous board. DeSantis also alleges the February declaration may not be legally binding, citing unnamed legal counsel.

Which country owns Disney? ›

United States. Walt Disney founded the Disney Company in the 1920s. From there, several theme parks developed throughout the country.

How much of Disney World is undeveloped? ›

So when you say Walt Disney World is huge, you ain't kidding! The Walt Disney World Resort is made up of 47 square miles of land…. or about 30,000 acres. Only about 1100 acres of that land is devoted to the 4 theme parks. In fact, with only 7,100 acres developed, there's quite a lot of room for expansion!

How much are Disney employees paid? ›

Currently, the minimum starting hourly wage for Disney World workers is $15, significantly higher than Florida's state minimum wage of $11, which will rise to $12 in September.

How much do the princesses at Disney make? ›

How much does a Disney Princess make? As of May 25, 2023, the average annual pay for a Disney Princess in the United States is $125,813 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $60.49 an hour.

How much does it cost to run Disney World for a day? ›

It's said that Disney has operating costs of approximately $2.1 billion. Of this figure, the total park costs amount to $23 million a day globally. So, that includes Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, Paris, and the American parks.

What's the smallest Disney park? ›

Magic Kingdom is actually technically the smallest park, if you can believe that as you wander the countless streets! The zones of Magic Kingdom are: Frontierland, Fantasyland, Liberty Square, Adventureland, and Tomorrowland.

What is the oldest Disney World resort? ›

When Walt Disney World opened to the public on October 1, 1971, the massive “Vacation Kingdom of the World” was home to two flagship hotels. The first, and arguably most famous, was the Contemporary Resort.

Was Disney World built on a swamp? ›

So, how was Disney World built on a swamp? Well, it wasn't, not really. They scooped out material from what was to be the Seven Seas Lagoon, made it into a vast dirt mound, and then built Disney World, the theme park we know today, on the top.

Is Disney still moving to Lake Nona? ›

Citing “changing business conditions” and the return of CEO Bob Iger, Josh D'Amaro, chairman of Disney's parks, experiences and products division, penned a memo to employees Thursday, announcing that the company will not move forward with construction of the campus and will no longer be asking more than 2,000 ...

What was Disney going to build in Lake Nona? ›

ORLANDO, Fla. — Cows are currently grazing on a plot of land in Lake Nona where Disney had planned to build a 1.8 million-square-foot regional campus.

Is Disney building a new island? ›

Disney's new island destination is being thoughtfully designed to provide a hassle-free experience for families, including complimentary beach essentials (towels, chairs and umbrellas and lunch) and convenient tram transportation. Lighthouse Point will open for guests on select sailings in summer 2024.

Is Disney going to leave Florida? ›

The short answer is no. Walt Disney World will forever be known as a Florida landmark, end of discussion. That being said, Disney still has the resources, the influence, and maybe even the desire to build a third U.S. Park.

Is Disney closing Animal Kingdom? ›

Is Animal Kingdom closing in 2024? No, Animal Kingdom is not closing in 2024. Nor is there any major park closure in store for Disney World in the foreseeable future. The TikTok video, which can be viewed here, is just another viral hit from a new Disney-themed parody site called The Mouse Trap.

Is Magic Kingdom closing? ›

Disney World's Magic Kingdom to close early in January 2024.

What are the new Disney rules for 2023? ›

As of April 18th 2023, Annual Passholders are now able to visit the Walt Disney World theme parks after 2PM WITHOUT a Park Pass reservation (with some exceptions). The exception applies to Annual Passholders wanting to visit Magic Kingdom on Saturdays and Sundays.

Will Disney be less crowded in 2023? ›

Ultimately, the coming month should be a great time to visit Walt Disney World, with lower crowds, wait times, and temperatures as compared to June through mid-August 2023. All of this is why May 2023 ranks as the #3 month of the entire year on our Best & Worst Months to Visit Walt Disney World.

What are the new Disney changes in 2023? ›

New Spaces at Walt Disney World in 2023

In EPCOT, an entirely restructured entrance area is planned. While in Magic Kingdom the TRON rollercoaster is changing the space near Space Mountain, matching the newly renovated Tomorrowland.

Is Disney now owned by China? ›

Do shareholders know that The Walt Disney Company is engaged in a joint venture with the Chinese Communist Party that allows for the operation of the Shanghai Disney Resort? And it's not an equal split, by the way. Instead, the CCP has 57% ownership while Disney holds only 43% ownership.

Who still owns Disney? ›

Although it was a private company initially owned by two brothers, it has since expanded thanks to its IPO back in 1955. Today, the Walt Disney Company is owned by a multitude of individual and institutional investors who've brought a ton of resources, and accountability to this brand.

When did Disney decline? ›

After becoming a major success by the early 1940s, the company diversified into live-action films, television, and theme parks in the 1950s. Following Walt Disney's death in 1966, the company's profits, especially in the animation division, began to decline.

Who owns the most land in FL? ›

Summary of the 11 Largest Landowners in Florida
RankLandownerAcreage Owned
1The St. Joe Company576,000 acres
2Foley Timber and Land Company562,000 acres
3Plum Creek Timber415,000 acres
4Rayonier Company400,000 acres
7 more rows
May 16, 2023

Who owns the most in Disney? ›

Investors should note that institutions actually own more than half the company, so they can collectively wield significant power. We note that hedge funds don't have a meaningful investment in Walt Disney. Looking at our data, we can see that the largest shareholder is The Vanguard Group, Inc.

How many Disney employees were laid off? ›

Disney Laying Off 7,000 Employees, Canceling Metaverse & Prime Program Plans. Bob Iger has shared more details about the layoffs and workforce reductions at the Walt Disney Company through Summer 2023.

What are 5 companies Disney owns? ›

  • 2.1.1 Film studios.
  • 2.1.2 Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures.
  • 2.1.3 Disney Theatrical Group.
  • 2.1.4 Disney Music Group.
  • 2.1.5 Disney Studio Services.

How much of Disney is still owned by the family? ›

Abigail's brother, Roy P., said in an interview that by 1960, Walt and Roy O. owned about 20% of the company. Today, the family owns less than 3% of the company. Roy P. is an investor, according to the interview.

Why doesn t Disney own Tokyo Disneyland? ›

It is owned by The Oriental Land Company, which licenses intellectual property from The Walt Disney Company. Tokyo Disneyland and its companion park, Tokyo DisneySea, are the only Disney parks in the world not owned or operated by The Walt Disney Company in any capacity.

Is Disney doing well financially? ›

–The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) today reported earnings for its second quarter ended April 1, 2023. Revenues for the quarter and six months grew 13% and 10%, respectively. Diluted earnings per share (EPS) from continuing operations for the quarter increased to $0.69 from $0.26 in the prior-year quarter.

Is Disney financially strong? ›

The Walt Disney Co has the Financial Strength Rank of 6.

GuruFocus Financial Strength Rank measures how strong a company's financial situation is.

Where is Disney buying land? ›

Rumors in Florida flowed about which company was buying up 27,443 acres of land in Orange and Osceola counties. There was much speculation about the various companies that could possibly be responsible.

Who is the highest paid Disney employee? ›

Research Summary.
  • Senior Software Engineer is the highest-paying job at The Walt Disney Company with an average salary of $167,171 and an average hourly rate of $80.37.
  • The second highest-paying job at The Walt Disney Company is consultant, with an average salary of $105,977.
Nov 11, 2022

Who gets paid the most at Disney World? ›

Salaries at Disney World range from an average of $46,874 to $122,038 a year. Disney World employees with the job title Operations Manager make the most with an average annual salary of $68,035, while employees with the title Operations Manager make the least with an average annual salary of $68,035.

Do Disney workers get free tickets? ›

Theme Park Experiences

Complimentary theme park admission for full-time and part-time positions after two weeks of employment.

How much do janitors make at Disney World? ›

Average Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Custodian hourly pay in the United States is approximately $15.78, which is 16% above the national average.

How much does tinkerbell get paid to fly? ›

It's rumored that Tink gets paid around $500 per flight across the Magic Kingdom's sky, which isn't bad for 30 seconds of work, if you ask us.

How much does Mickey Mouse get paid? ›

How much does a Mickey Mouse make in California? As of May 25, 2023, the average annual pay for a Mickey Mouse in California is $55,285 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $26.58 an hour. This is the equivalent of $1,063/week or $4,607/month.

Has anyone ever rented out Disney World? ›

Historically, Disney has allowed companies as well as individuals with deep pockets to rent out Disney World parks for a few hours after the park closes.

How much does Disney spend on fireworks? ›

A rough, conservative estimate for all WDW fireworks in 2022: $12 million, way down from 2019's $45 – $50 million dollars annually. Disney's budget cutting continues across the board while ticket prices are record high.

Why did Disney World pick Florida? ›

Disney settled on Orlando as the perfect site, convinced by its year-round sunshine, its excellent road access and relatively cheap land, as much of its was covered by swamps. In 1965, Walt Disney made an announcement that would forever alter the course of Orlando's history.

What did Disney take over? ›

Acquired companyDateCountry
Capital Cities/ABC Inc.February 9, 1996USA
ToysmartAugust 1996USA
StarwaveApril 30, 1998USA
InfoseekJuly 12, 1999USA
24 more rows

Why did they choose Florida for Disney World? ›

A few other cities received consideration, but it became apparent that Florida was the main focus area for Disney when looking at weather, the cost of land, convenience, and many other factors. Even with all that in mind, Orlando sat as a bit of an underdog at that time.

What happened to Disney in 1970? ›

During the summer of its 15th anniversary in 1970, Disneyland found itself in a unique situation where it was invaded by roughly 300 counter-culture young revolutionaries who effectively shut down the park for only the second time in its history.

Is Disney leaving Orlando Florida? ›

The short answer is no. Walt Disney World will forever be known as a Florida landmark, end of discussion. That being said, Disney still has the resources, the influence, and maybe even the desire to build a third U.S. Park.

Was Disney World going to be built in Louisiana? ›

Disney had also eyed the Big Easy as a possible theme park location, and even began purchasing property in New Orleans, but ultimately chose Orlando after politicians in Louisiana demanded too much. Another city where Disney could have created his World was St. Louis.

Where is Disney moving to in Florida? ›

The Walt Disney Company plans to relocate about 2000 jobs from California to Orlando's Lake Nona community. On June 16, 2022, Disney said the timeline to move its employees to Lake Nona would be delayed from 2022 until 2026.


1. Disney scraps plans for new $1 billion Central Florida campus
(CBS Miami)
2. Disney Pulls Plug On $1 Billion Development In Florida
(Indisputable with Dr. Rashad Richey)
3. Disney—Amid War With DeSantis—Scraps $1 Billion Florida Complex
(Forbes Breaking News)
4. Disney scraps plans for new Florida campus and cancels mass employee relocation
(CNBC Television)
5. Disney Cancels Plan to Move 2,000 Workers to Florida
(Bloomberg Television)
6. Disney scraps plans for new Florida campus amid feud with Gov. DeSantis
(Yahoo Finance)
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