The Walt Disney Company has been in the midst of a major battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, but it may not be what it seems.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis made waves last year when he announced that he’d be looking into Disney’s self-governance, the former Reedy Creek Improvement District, on the heels of the company making a statement against the Parental Rights in Education bill, which opponents tabbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, passed by the state of Florida. DeSantis shared that he believed the state of Florida made a mistake many years ago when it allowed Walt Disney World Resort to have its own government in place, and that Disney shouldn’t have rights that its other competition– Universal Orlando Resort, SeaWorld Orlando, and Busch Gardens– doesn’t have.
Before DeSantis’s new board– now called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District— took over, Disney signed agreements with the old board stripping the new supervisors of design and construction authority. This, of course, led to more responses from DeSantis, including the state signing a bill that would allow the Florida Department of Transportation to inspect Disney’s Monorail transportation. As soon as this legislation was passed, Disney announced that it had filed a lawsuit against the Florida Governor. DeSantis’s Central Florida Tourism Oversight District filed a counter-lawsuit, but neither of these complaints has moved forward in court yet.
Now, amid the controversy surrounding Walt Disney World Resort and Ron DeSantis, Disney announced this week that it would not be moving forward with the $1 billion Lake Nona project that it had previously announced. The Lake Nona project was originally supposed to be a new campus for Walt Disney Imagineering, and many employees had moved from California to Florida, but the company announced that it would help those employees move back out of the state of Florida as a result of this change.
Many detractors blamed DeSantis for Disney’s decision to cancel the project, but a statement from the Governor said that this decision was not as it seemed on the surface.
DeSantis spokesman Jeremy Redfern said that the state had been unsure if the expansion would be coming for two years now, and that Disney never moved forward with the project far before its falling out with the Governor. Multiple reports have come forward saying that Disney had axed the project months before following former CEO Bob Chapek’s departure as Bob Iger stepped into the new role.
“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,” Redfern said in the statement.
Jenna Ellis shared the following on the matter:
Don’t take the liberal media’s bait and spin. The truth is that Disney’s Lake Nona deal has been dead for months and NOT because of Ron DeSantis. The project died the day Bob Chapek (who ardent Disney fans loathed) got fired as CEO. Here are two Disney reporters confirming it last November.
Don't take the liberal media's bait and spin.
The truth is that Disney's Lake Nona deal has been dead for months and NOT because of Ron DeSantis. The project died the day Bob Chapek (who ardent Disney fans loathed) got fired as CEO.
Here are two Disney reporters confirming it… pic.twitter.com/EmXogzBw8j
— Jenna Ellis 🐊🇺🇸 (@JennaEllisEsq) May 18, 2023
Of course, Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro shared in his statement to Disney Cast Members that several factors went into the decision to cancel the project.
“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 forwad with construction of the campus,” D’Amaro said.
Walt Disney World President Jeff Vahle also said that “several dynamics have changed, including a change in company leadership and evolving economic and business conditions.”
While these statements certainly point to DeSantis as being a reason why the expansion isn’t moving forward, they also hint at the other factors, which indicated that Bob Iger did not want to move more into Florida from the time he was back in the CEO chair, anyway. These reports also indicated that Disney’s business had been down, and constructing a project of this magnitude would be a big undertaking for the company. Of course, with the uncertainty surrounding the company and its dealings with the state of Florida, it should also come as no surprise that Disney– which previously believed it would get several tax incentives to build the campus– would choose to pull out.