The “wildest ride in the wilderness” just got a whole lot wilder.
In the ongoing wild battle between The Walt Disney Company and Ron DeSantis, we’ve had lawsuits, boardroom surprises, and more twists and turns than Big Thunder Mountain Railroad itself.
Now, in what appears to be a revenge move on Disney’s behalf, Disney has announced it will be beginning an immediate move OUT of Florida for certain Cast Members.
We’ve been on quite the roller coaster in the feud between Florida and Disney, a feud which stemmed from a political boycott of The Walt Disney Company due to former Disney CEO, Bob Chapek, criticizing the Florida Parental Rights in Education law (otherwise called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill).
Florida Governor DeSantis threatened to remove Walt Disney World’s Reedy Creek Improvement District. Since 1967, the Walt Disney World Resort had been able to reside in Florida unregulated. Reedy Creek allowed Disney to act with the same authority as a county government. Local taxpayers – residents of Orange County and Osceola County – did not have to pay for building or maintaining Disney’s essential services.
A new board appointed by Ron DeSantis to oversee government services at Walt Disney World voted on April 26 to nullify two agreements that gave Disney control over the 25,000-acre property. How did Disney respond? Well, Disney filed a lawsuit suing Ron DeSantis, claiming “a targeted campaign of government retaliation,” and now, there’s a twist in the continuing Disney legal news.
It was revealed today, May 18, in an announcement that shocked many, that Disney has abandoned plans to open up a new Imagineering campus in Lake Nona, Florida, amid increasing tensions with the state’s governor.
In an email to Cast Members, Josh D’Amaro, Chairman of Disney’s Parks, Experiences, and Products Division, explained that “this was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one.”
If you remember, the relocation plans were negatively received by Disney Cast Members when they were first announced back in July 2021 by former Disney CEO Bob Chapek. Many Cast Members complained – and some even quit – but Disney continued on with the move mainly due to a Florida tax credit that would have allowed the company to recoup as much as $570 million over 20 years.
The new Imagineering complex involved relocating a division from its headquarters in Burbank, California (including 1000 employees) and would have created more than 2,000 jobs in Florida. The campus was originally slated to open in 2022-2023 but was later delayed to 2026.
As the company and Gov. Ron DeSantis continue to feud, many are seeing the announcement today as a show from CEO Bob Iger and Disney that they’re not bluffing when it comes to pulling the plug on spending and investment in the state.
In March, Disney CEO Bob Iger called Governor Ron DeSantis “anti-business” for his attacks on the theme park giant. Iger made clear that $17 billion in planned investment in Walt Disney World was on the line, saying, “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?”
California Governor Gavin Newsom tweeted last year about the possibility of Disney moving Imagineering back to California to a “state that actually represents the values of your workers.” It seems that DeSantis is seeing the effects of his attacks on Disney.
Disney, the door is open to bring those jobs back to California – the state that actually represents the values of your workers. https://t.co/kbCi7Zgs90
— Gavin Newsom (@GavinNewsom) March 13, 2022
In his email, Josh D’Amaro writes, “Given the considerable changes that have occurred since the announcement of this project, including new leadership and changing business conditions, we have decided not to move forward with construction of the campus.”
Many Imagineering employees had already relocated to Florida from California. D’Amaro mentions in his message that Disney would discuss options with them, “including the possibility of moving you back.”
He adds, “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 ten years.”
Just this week, Disney asked a Florida court to dismiss a lawsuit by Governor DeSantis’ handpicked board of supervisors. A week after The Central Florida Tourism Board countersued Disney, Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill that now voids the agreements Disney made with the old Reedy Creek board. Disney has asked a federal judge to dismiss the lawsuit filed by the new board. Disney claims that, because of the new law, the board’s lawsuit is moot.
We will keep you updated on this developing story.