Home>Articles>Newsom v. DeSantis Rivalry Peaks Again Over Disney Cancelling $1 Billion Project In Florida

California Governor Gavin Newsom speaking at the State of the State address in Sacramento, CA, Mar 8, 2022. (Photo: Sheila Fitzgerald/Shutterstock)

Newsom v. DeSantis Rivalry Peaks Again Over Disney Cancelling $1 Billion Project In Florida

Scrapped plan halts relocation of 2,000 jobs from Burbank to Orlando

By Evan Symon, May 19, 2023 1:02 pm

The rivalry between California Governor Gavin Newsom and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis reached a new peak on Thursday following the announcement by Disney that they would be cancelling their $1 billion Lake Nona development in Florida. This halts the move of around 2,000 from California to the new development due to a growing rift between Disney and Florida.

The Lake Nona development saga dates back to 2021. That year, Disney announced that 2,000 jobs, mostly from the Parks, Experiences and Products division in Burbank, would be going to the new Lake Nona area in the next few years. While that figure constituted less than 5% of the number of Disney jobs in California, it marked the first huge shift of Disney higher-ups shifting from being California-based to Florida-based. Many in California worried that it could also lead to even more jobs moving if Lake Nona was successful. While a few hundred did make the move in the last few years to Lake Nona, the bulk of employees had yet to move due to the project opening being delayed from 2023 to 2026. Many of those employees in the meantime held out hope that they could remain in California.

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. (Photo: Gage Skidmore)

While Disney was fully committed to the Florida Lake Nona relocation, cracks began to form in March 2022. That month, a Florida bill that read “classroom instruction by school personnel or third parties on sexual orientation or gender identity may not occur in kindergarten through grade 3 or in a manner that is not age appropriate or developmentally appropriate” gained steam in the state. HB 1557, dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, quickly polarized many – in and out of California. While DeSantis and supporters praised the bill, others, including Newsom and LGBT advocates, quickly came out in opposition to the bill. After several weeks of back and forth, Disney also decided to oppose the bill, angering DeSantis.

Over the next several months, the relationship between DeSantis and the company worsened. It was all capped off by Governor DeSantis pushing to remove the Reedy Creek Improvement District, a special Florida district that has allowed Disney run the Disney World resort how they see fit on a local level, and return the park to the traditional structure under a local government. As control of the area would greatly challenge and hinder park operations, Disney and DeSantis fought over the District for the last several months. Last month, Disney sued DeSantis over control of the District. DeSantis pushed back and signed a bill into law earlier this month formally eliminating the District. With their special status in Florida now gone, and the state government remaining hostile, Disney announced on Thursday they would no longer be developing their Lake Nona Development. This will result in the 2,000 jobs to move no longer be happening, and other future developments in the state would now be put into jeopardy.

“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,” said Josh D’Amaro, the Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, in a memo to employees on Thursday. “This was not an easy decision to make, but I believe it is the right one.”

With the Californian jobs now saved, Governor Newsom said that the announcement was a victory for the state and that they hoped that this would lead to only more investment coming into California now that the situation in Florida for Disney has become more untenable.

“Authoritarian policies have consequences,” said Governor Newsom in a statement. “This announcement is a victory for California, and the tens of thousands of Disney employees who know they can live in a state where they are respected and safe. Disney has invested billions of dollars in California, and we look forward to their increased investment and growth in our state.”

Florida Lawmakers Respond

However, the response from lawmakers in Florida was vastly different. Some expressed fear on Thursday and Friday, with many lamenting that the project would have a major economic toll for Central Florida, especially if Disney continues to pull out of projects in the state.

“This is a very big deal for Central Florida,” said Florida State Representative Bobby Olszewski. “There’s an economic toll not only for today but for years and possibly even decades to come, and obviously the tax impact on Orange County local government are going to be immense.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings added in a Tweet on Friday, “It is unfortunate that Disney will not be moving forward with construction. These are the consequences when there isn’t an inclusive and collaborative work environment between the state of Florida and the business community.”

In defense, DeSantis continued to blast Disney for their decision on Friday, with many commentators noting that the news comes only days before an expected presidential run announcement next week.

“Nothing ever came of the project, and the state was unsure whether it would come to fruition,” said a spokesman for DeSantis. “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.”

While the Lake Nona situation is being called a victory by both DeSantis and Newsom, others say it is showing a reversal now of jobs returning to Southern California as compared to jobs continuing to leave the Bay Area. Employees who would have been affected by the move were, in general, pleased that they would get to stay in California.

“We all felt like pawns in a way,” said one Burbank employee to the Globe on Friday who had been slated to move to Florida. “But now that it’s over, the general consensus, at least amongst those I know of who were to move, is that it is a sigh of relief. Some didn’t want to go to Florida because they just don’t like the state, others were concerned about the LGBT laws there. And then others were excited about the move, as it would have been working in a new campus by the larger park there.”

“Political situation aside, most just wanted to stay here because their families were out here and they didn’t want to move them. All the constant rain and humidity weren’t exactly appealing to people either. Oh, and you can’t forget that Walt had set everything up here originally, and a lot of us like working in California because Walt did too.”

“Don’t get me wrong, California has problems. A lot of problems. You don’t need me to tell you that. But it is home too. So this announcement is good for us in general. What Newsom and DeSantis and everyone else is saying about this is immaterial. We just generally didn’t want to go, and now we don’t have to. It’s not political to us.”

Future Disney cancellations in Florida remain possible as of Friday, with DeSantis expected to announce a 2024 presidential run next week.

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Evan Symon
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2 thoughts on “Newsom v. DeSantis Rivalry Peaks Again Over Disney Cancelling $1 Billion Project In Florida

  1. Disney will move from CA – its a business decision because CA is ready to launch more taxes across businesses to keep up with pension, homeless, and illegals that are using up more and more tax money

  2. Disney has become a globalist corporation that has been perverted by a radical leftist woke management that promotes grooming and mutilating trans surgeries. Disney fits perfectly into the perversion agenda of Newsom and California Democrats?

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