Disney Pulls Out of $1 Billion Florida Development Deal Amid Feud with DeSantis

May 18, 2023

Walt Disney CEO Robert Iger on Thursday announced, along with Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park and consumer products chairman, that the entertainment giant was pulling the plug on a nearly $1 billion office complex that was set for construction in Orlando.

The move comes less than a month after the Walt Disney Company filed suit against Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), a five-member board that DeSantis appointed to oversee its resort complex in Florida and other state officials over a “targeted campaign of government retaliation.”

The suit was filed moments after the board voted to nullify two agreements that gave Disney vast control over expansion at the 25,000-acre resort complex.

DeSantis had targeted Disney’s Reedy Creek district last year after Disney’s then-CEO Bob Chapek publicly criticized Florida’s so-called “don’t say gay” bill, which restricts certain classroom instruction of sexual orientation and gender identity. 

When Reedy Creek was established in 1967, it effectively turned the property into its own county, giving Disney control over its own fire protection, policing, waste management, energy generation, road maintenance, bond issuance and development planning.

“We are unaware of any legal right that a company has to operate its own government or maintain special privileges not held by other businesses in the state,” said DeSantis spokesperson Taryn Fenske, referring to Disney’s lawsuit.

The now-pulled business complex, known as the Lake Nona Town Center, reportedly would have brought more than 2,000 jobs to the region—including more than 1,000 Disney employees who would have been relocated from California. Each job would have come with a $120,000 average salary. 

When he announced the project in 2021, D’Amaro cited “Florida’s business-friendly climate” to justify the investment.

Last week, though, during an earnings related conference with analysts, Iger posed the question, “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?”

Meanwhile, DeSantis, who has taken to refer to the biggest employer in his state as “Woke Disney,” said last month in response to the company’s lawsuit, “If Disney wants to pick a fight, they chose the wrong guy.”

News of Disney’s billion-dollar withdrawal comes on the same day that multiple reports have revealed that DeSantis is set to file paperwork and declare his bid to run for President in 2024 next week.

Disney reportedly paid and collected a total of $1.2 billion in state and local taxes in 2022. Recently, it announced an earmark of $17 billion for expansion spending over the next decade, growth that would create an additional 13,000 jobs with the company.

PHOTO: Artist Rendering of the Lake Nona Project per Disney Tourist Blog

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