Bob Iger, chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company, pauses during his speech during an Economic Club of New York event in midtown Manhattan, New York City, October 24, 2019.
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disney The company dropped plans to open a new employee campus in Lake Nona, Florida, amid heightened tensions with Florida’s governor.
Citing the “changing business environment” and the return of CEO Bob Iger, Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Chairman Josh Damaro wrote a memo to employees on Thursday announcing that the company will not continue building The campus and will no longer require more than 2,000 California employees to relocate to Florida.
“It was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it was the right one,” Damaro told staff.
When former CEO Bob Chapek first announced the company’s relocation plans in July 2021, many Disney employees hesitated. While some left the company or moved to other positions within Disney that didn’t require the move to Florida, others hoped the plan would fail after the delay. The campus was originally scheduled to open in 2022-2023, but was delayed until 2026.
Disney is headquartered in Burbank, California, but has several satellite offices across the country and the world.
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Employees who have moved to Florida may move back to California, D’Amaro said.
“It’s clear to me that the strength of this brand comes from our amazing people, and we’re committed to navigating this change with care and compassion,” he said.
Disney’s announcement comes amid a bitter row between the company and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. The company filed a lawsuit accusing DeSantis and his new D.C. board members of political retaliation against the entertainment giant.
DeSantis took aim at Disney’s special zone, which previously Known as the Reed Creek Improvement Area.
For decades, the zone has allowed the entertainment giant to effectively govern the operations of its Orlando parks. The district ended up intact, but its five-person commission was replaced by a DeSantis pick and renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District.
Disney filed the lawsuit in late April after a new board of directors voted to rescind a development contract the company said it had struck to secure its investment. The company has since updated that lawsuit to include newly passed legislation targeting its monorail system as further evidence of the governor’s retaliation.
Iger publicly attacked DeSantis and the Florida government, noting that Disney creates thousands of indirect jobs, brings about 50 million tourists a year to Florida and is the state’s largest taxpayer.
Stickers and apparel promoting Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sit on tables ahead of the book tour event at North Charleston Coliseum on April 19, 2023 in North Charleston, South Carolina.
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In a statement late Thursday, DeSantis representatives called the decision to close the Lake Nona campus “no surprise.”
“Disney announced the possibility of a Lake Nona campus about two years ago. Nothing came to fruition for the project, and the state was unsure if it would come to fruition,” DeSantis’ office said in a statement.
Damaro reiterated in the memo that the company still plans to invest $17 billion in Florida over the next 10 years, including adding about 13,000 jobs. The company currently employs more than 75,000 people in the state.
Disney declined to provide specific updates on the investment, but has previously announced plans to update park attractions, expand existing parks and add more cruise ships to its fleet in Florida.
“I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business,” Damaro told employees.