Disney Cancels New Florida Campus Construction Plan

The decision to scrap the massive Lake Nona project and the relocation of 2,000 Disney employees was driven by "changing business conditions."

Walt Disney World entrance JHVEPhoto Adobe Stock
Photo Credit: JHVE Photo for Adobe Stock

The Walt Disney Co. announced yesterday that the company is scrapping plans to build a new campus in Lake Nona, about 20 miles from Disney World in Central Florida. The $1 billion campus was going to be the new headquarters for about 2,000 Disney employees currently based in Southern California. According to an employee memo from Josh D'Amaro, chair of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, the decision was driven by "the considerable changes that have occurred since the announcement of this project, including new leadership and changing business conditions."

The Walt Disney Co. is in the midst of a reorganization that includes trimming its workforce by 7,000 jobs. At the same time, the company is embroiled in a feud with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, against whom it recently filed a First Amendment lawsuit. The feud began nearly a year ago, when Disney issued a statement disagreeing with state legislation concerning discussions about sexual orientation and gender identity in the public-school system, commonly referred to by critics as the "Don't Say Gay" law. Since then, DeSantis has sought to strip away Disney's operational autonomy first by dissolving the self-governing district the company had been awarded in the park's early days, and subsequently restricting the company's authority on safety oversight.

"This was not an easy decision to make," D'Amaro's employee memo read, "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."

The loss of the $1 billion Lake Nona project and the relocation of 2,000 jobs represents a significant impact to Central Florida. Given the public squabbles with the governor, local officials are eager to preserve and nurture their relationship with the region's largest taxpayer.

"It is unfortunate that Disney will not be moving forward with construction of the Lake Nona campus," said Orange County Mayor Jerry L. Demings. "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."

For its part, Disney is likewise reassuring the community about its intentions. "It is clear to me that the power of this brand comes from our incredible people, and we are committed to handling this change with care and compassion," wrote D'Amaro. "I remain 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."

Meanwhile, Calif. Gov. Gavin Newsom celebrated the fact that those 2,000 Disney jobs would remain in California. "This announcement is a victory for California, and the tens of thousands of Disney employees who know they can live in a state where they are respected and safe," Newsom said. "Disney has invested billions of dollars in California, and we look forward to their increased investment and growth in our state."

Separately, Disney has announced it will close the "Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser Adventure" luxury hotel at Walt Disney World in September. The exclusive themed hotel and experience debuted in March 2022. The company did not specify a reason for the closure.