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For more an 50 years Disney and the state of Florida have Florida have been inseparable, but the relationship has been coming apart at the seams. Governor Ron DeSantis took issue with the company speaking out against a state law, which resulted in Florida replacing the Reedy Creek Improvement District which oversaw Walt Disney World. Now Disney is suing the governor, and in the biggest move to date, has now abandoned plans to move Walt Disney Imagineering from California to Florida.
Back in July of 2021, Disney announced plans to move most of Walt Disney Imagineering, as well as other Disney employees, from Southern California to a new office complex that was being built near Walt Disney World in Lake Nona, Florida. While the timetable for the Imagineering move was pushed back last summer, it was still moving forward, with all Cast Members expected to be in Florida by 2026. But now the New York Times is reporting that Disney has completely pulled the plug on the $1 billion project.
In an email to Cast Members Chairman of the Parks, Experiences, and Products division Josh D'Amaro reportedly cited "changing business conditions" as the reason for moving away from Lake Nona, but the NYT says the ongoing battle with Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis was a major contributing factor.
Florida's "business friendly" climate was one of the reasons given when the plan to move over 1000 Cast Members to Florida was first announced, however, that climate has become decidedly less friendly over the last couple of years, specifically for Disney. Disney is currently suing the state of Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis, among others, claiming the government is retaliating against the company for exercising its First Amendment rights when it publicly advocated against a Florida law last year.
Disney CEO Bob Iger has publicly spoken against the measures taken against Walt Disney World in Florida. He has called DeSantis' moves "anti-business" and suggested that the company, which had previously planned to spend $17 billion and hire 13,000 more people over the next decade, might not do so, at least not in Florida.
The decision to move Walt Disney Imagineering to Florida certainly made some sense. Putting the group in charge of theme park attractions closer to the flagship resort certainly has value. However, many of the Cast Members had made lives in California and were not excited by the idea of moving. Only Imagineers specifically assigned to Disneyland Resort were expected to remain in California.
Approximately 200 people have already made the move to Florida since the plan was announced in 2021. In the email D'Amaro suggested that the company may actually move them all back to California, assuming they wish to do so. Several Imagineers also left Disney because they did not want to make the move. One wonders if those people might have an opportunity to return, though since Disney is currently in a period of layoffs, that might not be possible.