The ongoing feud between the Walt Disney Co. (NYSE:DIS) and Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis took a dramatic turn with the entertainment giant pulling the plug on one of the biggest commercial real estate deals within the Sunshine State.
The New York Times reported that Disney CEO Bob Iger and Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney’s Parks, Experiences and Products Division, announced the cancelation of a planned Orlando-area project that was budgeted at nearly $1 billion and would have relocated more than 2,000 Disney jobs from California to Florida. The project had been in the planning stages since 2019 and was widely seen when it was first announced in 2021 as an affirmation of DeSantis’ business-focused approach to government and a rebuke of the California economy under its governor, Gavin Newsom.
However, the relationship between Disney and DeSantis began to fray early last year when the company voices its disapproval of DeSantis-backed legislation designed to restrict public schools in Florida from teaching elementary school students about sexuality and gender identity. DeSantis labeled the company as “woke” and accused it of bringing “California values” to his state. The disagreement escalated beyond a war of words with the Florida legislature following the governor’s request to strip Disney of its ability to have a semi-autonomous tax district responsible for its Orlando-area territory. The matter has since degenerated into multiple lawsuits filed on both sides of the fray.
D’Amaro’s announced the cancelation of the project – formally known as the Lake Nona Town Center – in an email to employees. Without citing DeSantis by name, D’Amaro cited “changing business conditions” as the cause of the project’s doom, but added the company still had $17 billion allocated for new construction at Disney World and claimed that he would “remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business.”
A spokesman for Mr. DeSantis responded to the Disney announcement with an email statement that 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.”