Disney has scrapped its plans to build a $1 billion campus in Lake Nona, Florida, its latest move in its ongoing battle with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) and state Republicans over the state’s infamous “Don’t Say Gay” law. Some Republicans have criticized DeSantis over the project’s cancellation, which occurred days before DeSantis is expected to announce his candidacy for president.
The campus would’ve housed nearly 1,000 employees who relocated from the company’s California headquarters and brought more than 2,000 jobs to the region. The employees largely worked in a department that designed theme park rides based on the company’s films.
However, in a Thursday email to employees, Josh D’Amaro, chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, wrote that Disney canceled its plans “given the considerable changes that have occurred since the announcement of this project, including new leadership and changing business conditions.”
“This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one,” D’Amaro wrote, adding that the company would help employees who had already relocated return to California. The New York Times reported that the company’s dispute with DeSantis “figured prominently” into the campus’s cancellation.
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez (R) criticized DeSantis for the cancellation.
“Look, he took an issue that was a winning issue that we all agreed on, which was parental rights for K through third-graders,” Suarez told NewsNation. “And it looks like now it’s something that spite or maybe potentially a personal vendetta, which has cost the state now potentially 2,000 jobs in a billion-dollar investment.”
“Ron DeSanctimonious gets caught in the mouse trap,” the campaign of presidential candidate Donald Trump (R) tweeted Thursday. Trump is considered the frontrunner in the GOP primary for president.
Former Vice President Mike Pence referred to Walt Disney as “Woke Disney” over the company’s opposition to the state’s anti-LGBTQ+ law but added, “At the end of the day, the business of America is business, and I’m not terribly surprised to see Disney canceling a $1 billion contract. That’s only going to harm people in the Orlando and Florida area, and it’s one more reason why, as a limited government conservative, I’ve said for months now that I think both sides ought to stand down. Take the victory for parents’ rights in the legislature and move on.”
In a statement, Gov. Gavin Newsom of California (D) wrote, “Turns out, bigoted policies have consequences.” His office called Disney’s announcement a “victory” for California, saying that Disney employees now “know they can live in a state where they are respected and safe.”
DeSantis’ press secretary, Jeremy Redfern, tried to downplay the scrapped plans, blaming its cancellation on Disney’s finances, according to Insider. “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.”
Disney recently sued DeSantis and other Florida officials over their alleged “targeted campaign of government retaliation” after the company criticized Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law. Disney says the DeSantis administration’s retaliation violated the company’s right to free speech — the company’s claims are seemingly backed up by admissions DeSantis made in his own recently published autobiography.
After Disney spoke out against Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, DeSantis continuously criticized the company in public, and Florida’s Republican-led legislature revoked Disney’s decades-old special zoning agreement that allowed the company to oversee its 25,000-acre property near Orlando.
In February, DeSantis signed a bill abolishing the district and then appointed a five-member board to oversee Disney’s district. One of the board members is an ally of the anti-LGBTQ+ group Moms For Liberty. Another is Ron Peri, an anti-LGBTQ+ pastor who believes women on birth control urinate estrogen into tap water, making anyone who drinks the water likely to turn gay, CNN noted.
However, the board’s appointees quickly learned that the previous board sneaked in a last-minute development agreement with Disney, allowing it to maintain much of its autonomy and rendering the new board rather powerless. After the board voted to undo the agreement, Disney sued, and the board counter-sued.
DeSantis has also threatened to build a prison next to Disney and called for state oversight of Disney World’s rides. His revenge quest has caused him to be ridiculed by a local paper for declaring “thermonuclear war on a cartoon mouse.” He has also been mocked by Saturday Night Live for having married his wife at Disney World in 2009.
Last week, Disney CEO Bob Iger lashed out at the Florida government’s vendetta against the company. Disney, Iger said during the company’s second-quarter earnings call, paid over $1.1 billion in local and state taxes last year and is “the largest taxpayer in Central Florida.” He said the company was planning to invest $17 billion in Florida over the next 10 years, “which is what the state should want us to do.”
“One question,” Iger asked during the call. “Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes — or not? We’ve built a business that employs, as we’ve said before, over 75,000 people and attracts tens of millions of people to the state.”