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Disney pulls plug on $1 billion development project in Florida

ORLANDO, Fla. — Walt Disney Company announced Thursday it will not move forward with plans to open a campus in Orlando that was estimated to be a $1 billion development project.

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The project would have brought around 2,000 jobs at an average salary of $120,000 to the Orlando area, with around 1,000 employees to be relocated from Southern California, The New York Times reported.

The decision came after a growing legal battle between Disney and Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, Reuters reported. Disney and DeSantis have been in a battle that began in March 2022 with the then-CEO of Disney, Bob Chapek. Chapek reportedly criticized some legislations in the state that would limit gender identity and sexuality discussions in elementary schools. This led DeSantis to take away Disney’s “self-governing power” over Walt Disney World, saying that the company should not have special treatment.

In February, DeSantis signed a bill giving the state control over the Reedy Creek Improvement District, now called the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District. He appointed five people to serve on the district’s board, all five of which were named in the suit that was filed last month.

Walt Disney Parks and Resorts officials filed a lawsuit in April in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Florida. Disney officials accused the governor and other officials of carrying out “a targeted campaign of government retaliation—orchestrated at every step by Governor DeSantis as punishment for Disney’s protected speech.”

Part of the decision to relocate some employees from California to Florida also led to complaints from some employees who did not want to move, Reuters said.

The project, called the Lake Nona Town Center, would have brought the Imagineering department to Florida. The department is responsible for Disney’s movie studios as well as developing some of the attractions at the Disney Theme Parks, the Times reported.

In a letter to employees obtained by WFTV, the Chairman of Disney Parks, Josh D’Amaro, said that the decision to pull the plug was not an easy one.

“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,” D’Amaro said.

D’Amaro also said that the company is planning to invest about $17 billion in Walt Disney World construction over the next few years with the hope of creating around 13,000 jobs, according to the Times.

Lake Nona’s owner, Tavistock Group, declined to comment on the decision, according to WFTV.

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