Amid battle with Florida governor, Disney cancels $900 million campus

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Disney on Thursday canceled a $900 million campus project near its Florida theme park. The group justifies its decision by a new business environment, in a context of strong political tensions with the Republican governor Ron DeSantis, potential presidential candidate in full anti-woke crusade.

Disney, in the midst of a political battle with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, announced on Thursday May 18 that the group was giving up building a nearly $900 million campus in the state near its amusement park.

The American entertainment giant, which recently committed significant cost reductions, justifies its decision by a new business environment since the announcement of the project in 2021, with in particular a new general manager and “the evolution of economic conditions “, according to a memo sent to employees and seen by AFP. For these reasons, “we have decided not to continue construction of the campus”, writes Josh D’Amaro, the manager of amusement parks.

The decision also comes against the backdrop of strong political tensions with local authorities. They consider the company too progressive since its leaders publicly denounced, in 2022, a bill which restricted the teaching of subjects related to sexual orientation and gender identity in Florida elementary schools. .

Read also Disney Criticizes Florida Law Deemed Anti-LGBT+, State Sanctions Group

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, a rising star of the American hard right who has launched an offensive against a supposed “woke” culture, ended in February the special status that Disney had enjoyed in his state since the 1960s.

“Targeted Revenge”

The governor has also publicly mentioned the construction of a prison near Disney World or new taxes on hotels on the site, which employs 75,000 people and attracts 50 million visitors a year. Disney responded by filing a complaint, saying it was “targeted revenge” against him to punish him for exercising his “freedom of expression”.

A figure of the populist right in the United States, Ron DeSantis is widely seen as Donald Trump’s most serious competitor for the Republican primary preceding the next presidential elections. According to US media, the Governor of Florida may soon announce his 2024 presidential bid.

Read also United States: Can Ron DeSantis dethrone Donald Trump as head of the Republican Party?

And a sign of the political significance of the dispute with Disney, Donald Trump railed against Ron DeSantis in a statement on Thursday, accusing him of having lost the group’s investment “all alone”, because the governor would be “too weak to fight for its state”. “Ron DeSantis’ failed conflict with Disney hasn’t really helped his phantom and wobbly campaign,” added the Republican billionaire.


Criticism over the row had already begun to emerge on the right, with some Republicans lambasting an anti-corporate fight that goes against their party’s tradition.

On the Democratic side, the head of Orange County – which includes the city of Lake Nona where the campus was to be located – deemed Disney’s decision “regrettable”. But “it’s a predictable consequence when the working environment between the state of Florida and the business community is not inclusive and collaborative,” said Jerry Demings.

Since the 1960s, Disney had enjoyed a special status with many advantages – administrative facilities, self-management of the site, advantageous loans, etc.

The group had announced in July 2021 its intention to ask more than 2,000 employees to move to Florida. This project was led by the former managing director, Bob Chapek, replaced in November 2022 by Bob Iger when Disney’s results were weakened by the weak performance of the group’s streaming platform, Disney+.

The cost of the campus, according to press reports, was estimated in 2021 at $864 million. The decision to abandon this project “was not easy to make, but I believe it is the right one”, noted Josh D’Amaro in the memo on Thursday.

With AFP

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