- April 16, 2022
State and local leaders had plenty to say following Walt Disney World’s announcement it has canceled plans for a new $1 billion campus in Lake Nona.
Democrats blamed the move on Gov. Ron DeSantis and his ongoing battle with the entertainment company.
“Florida is once again suffering because of Gov. Ron DeSantis’s inability to lead,” newly elected U.S. Rep Maxwell Frost said. “He’s not only launched a full-scale attack on our people and some of the most vulnerable in our communities, he is now effectively threatening our state’s economy.
“Disney’s project in Lake Nona should have been a win for Florida, a win for our economy and a win for working people in the Orlando area,” Frost said. “This $1 billion development would have employed thousands while positively impacting our tourism industries. He’s more interested in running for president than running the state of Florida, and Floridians are paying the price of his campaign.”
State Sen. Linda Stewart agreed.
“While the news from Disney … comes as a disappointment, it is an understandable move given the business climate we are in as a state,” she said. “Businesses continuously evaluate environments and economic factors when undertaking large relocations — and Disney is no different. While I wish the determination was different, I believe Florida’s political atmosphere caused this reorganization to occur. However, this move should not be viewed as a reflection on Lake Nona. The additional jobs and housing would have been a great boost to our community, but I’m confident that Lake Nona will continue to be a key location for future investment from the Walt Disney Company.”
“It is unfortunate that Disney will not be moving forward with construction of the Lake Nona campus,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said. “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.”
DeSantis’ office refuted the claim that Disney’s decision was political.
“Disney announced the possibility of a Lake Nona campus nearly two years ago,” the governor’s office said in a prepared statement. “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.”
In his announcement of the decision, Walt Disney World Resort President Jeff Vahle reiterated the company’s commitment to Central Florida.
“Today, you may have heard the news that Disney is no longer moving forward on the construction of a new campus in the thriving and growing community of Lake Nona in Orlando,” he said. “Since we first announced this project, several dynamics have changed, including a change in company leadership and evolving economic and business conditions.
“Regarding our world-class destination, our desire is to continue investing in our core business in an effort to attract and welcome millions of visitors to Walt Disney World and Central Florida each year, so they can enjoy the kind of hospitality our region is known for around the world,” Vahle said. “Our plans currently call for us to invest $17 billion in Walt Disney World over the next 10 years and create 13,000 new jobs to continue doing our part as a leading employer in the hospitality and themed entertainment industry. We hope those plans will become a future reality.
“For decades, we have operated our business responsibly and being the region’s largest taxpayer, we paid and collected (more than) $1.1 billion in state and local taxes during last year alone,” he said. “As the largest single-site employer in Central Florida, we are deeply rooted in this community, and we continue to make investments for the betterment of our region such as our contribution of 80 acres of land to create affordable and attainable housing for our community, which we announced last year. Groundbreaking on this development is targeted for next year, with the first of 1,400 units anticipated to be completed in 2026.
“While today’s decision was not easy, we remain committed to our Cast Members, as well as you and our wonderful community,” Vahle said.
Disney announced plans for the 60-acre Lake Nona campus in July 2021. The campus would have become the new workplace for employees from the company’s Parks, Experiences and Products division, and the company planned to move about 2,000 California-based employees to Central Florida. The campus originally was set to be operational by the end 2022, but the company previously had pushed that back to 2026.
The conversation that ultimately led to the dissolution of the Disney’s Reedy Creek Improvement District began in April 2022. DeSantis signed the legislation ending the special district and establishing the DeSantis-appointed Central Florida Tourism Oversight District Board of Supervisors in February 2023. Most recently, the oversight board filed a lawsuit against Disney regarding the Reedy Creek district’s final act, which essentially gave the company the development authority the RCID once held. Disney also has filed a suit against the DeSantis and the oversight board, claiming they engaged in “a targeted campaign of government retaliation.”
On the same day as the announcement about the Lake Nona campus, Disney also revealed it will be closing the Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser hotel experience, which opened in March 2022.