Disney Pulls Plug on $1 Billion Development in Florida (2023)


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A new office complex, and relocation of a division from California, would have created more than 2,000 jobs but was scuttled as the company and Gov. Ron DeSantis continue to feud.

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Disney Pulls Plug on $1 Billion Development in Florida (1)

In March, Disney called Gov. Ron DeSantis of Florida “anti-business” for his scorched-earth attempt to tighten oversight of the company’s theme park resort near Orlando. Last month, when Disney sued the governor and his allies for what it called “a targeted campaign of government retaliation,” the company made clear that $17 billion in planned investment in Walt Disney World was on the line.

“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?” Robert A. Iger, Disney’s chief executive, said on an earnings-related conference call with analysts last week.

On Thursday, Mr. Iger and Josh D’Amaro, Disney’s theme park and consumer products chairman, showed that they were not bluffing, pulling the plug on an office complex that was scheduled for construction in Orlando at a cost of roughly $1 billion. It would have brought more than 2,000 Disney jobs to the region, with $120,000 as the average salary, according to an estimate from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The project, near Lake Nona Town Center, was supposed to cost $864 million, but recent price estimates have been closer to $1.3 billion. Disney had planned to relocate as many as 2,000 employees from Southern California, including most of a department known as Imagineering, which works with Disney’s movie studios to develop theme park attractions.

Most of the affected employees complained bitterly about having to move — some quit — but Disney held firm, partly because of a Florida tax credit that would have allowed the company to recoup as much as $570 million over 20 years for building and occupying the complex.

When he announced the project in 2021, Mr. D’Amaro cited “Florida’s business-friendly climate” as justification.

Mr. D’Amaro’s tone in an email to employees on Thursday was notably chillier. He cited “changing business conditions” as a reason for canceling the Lake Nona project. “I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business,” Mr. D’Amaro said in the memo. He noted that $17 billion was still earmarked for construction at Disney World over the next decade — growth that would create an estimated 13,000 jobs. “I hope we’re able to,” he said.

The memo, which was viewed by The New York Times, did not mention Mr. DeSantis. But the company’s battle with the governor and his allies in the Florida Legislature figured prominently into Disney’s decision to cancel the Lake Nona project, according to two people briefed on the matter, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private deliberations. A spokeswoman for Mr. Iger said he was not available for an interview.

A spokesman for Mr. DeSantis said in an email: “Disney announced the possibility of a Lake Nona campus nearly two years ago. Nothing ever came of the project, and the state was unsure whether it would come to fruition. 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.”

Florida officials have repeatedly pointed to the Lake Nona development as an example of economic vibrancy in Orlando, which suffered mightily during the pandemic. Noting that hotel chains and retailers were moving into the Lake Nona area in anticipation of Disney’s arrival, The Orlando Business Journal in January called the complex “a major economic driver for the region.”

In a statement, Jerry L. Demings, the mayor of Orange County, which includes Orlando, said it was “unfortunate” that Disney canceled its plans. “However, these are the consequences when there isn’t an inclusive and collaborative work environment between the state of Florida and the business community,” Mr. Demings said.

Gov. Gavin Newsom of California thanked Disney. “That’s 2,000+ jobs that will be welcomed back with open arms to the Golden State,” Mr. Newsom said on Twitter.

Disney has already incurred millions of dollars in expenses related to the project, including relocation costs for about 200 employees who have already moved to Florida from California. Mr. D’Amaro said in his note that the company would discuss options with those workers, “including the possibility of moving you back.” (It was not clear whether any of the people who quit rather than moved would have the chance to return to their jobs.) The Lake Nona project had initially been scheduled to open next year. Last July, Disney pushed back the move-in date to 2026, citing pandemic-related construction delays.

The Lake Nona campus, about 20 miles from Disney World near the Orlando International Airport, had been championed by Bob Chapek, who served as Disney’s chief executive from 2020 until he was fired last year. Mr. Iger, who came out of retirement to retake Disney’s reins, was much less enthusiastic about the project — even before the company became mired in its battle with Mr. DeSantis. As soon as he returned to Disney, Mr. Iger began telling lieutenants, for instance, that it made little sense to move Imagineering so far away from Disney’s movie studios. As he is fond of saying, “Creative teams need to be together.”

Mr. Iger has been systematically reversing Mr. Chapek’s decisions. In February, for instance, he announced that Disney would restructure its inner workings, ending a framework put in place by Mr. Chapek. In March, as part of wide-ranging layoffs, Mr. Iger shut down a 50-person metaverse project that Mr. Chapek had started.

Disney is also in the midst of cutting $5.5 billion in costs as it seeks to improve profitability, pay down debt and restore its dividend. Later on Thursday, for instance, Disney said it would close an underperforming luxury hotel at Disney World. The 100-room property, announced in 2017 and opened last year, simulated a two-night trip on a “Star Wars” spaceship. Bookings started at $6,000 for a family of four; the price limited interest. Disney spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build and market the immersive offering, which it called the Galactic Starcruiser.

Disney shares closed at about $94 on Thursday, down about 45 percent from two years ago.

Mr. DeSantis and Disney have been sparring for more than a year over a special tax district that encompasses Disney World. The fight started when the company criticized a Florida education law that opponents labeled “Don’t Say Gay” because it limits classroom instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation — angering Mr. DeSantis, who repeatedly vowed payback.

Since then, Florida legislators, at the urging of Mr. DeSantis, have targeted Disney — the state’s largest taxpayer — with a variety of hostile measures. In February, they ended Disney’s long-held ability to self-govern its 25,000-acre resort as if it were a county by giving Mr. DeSantis control over government services at the resort.

It was soon discovered that the previous, Disney-controlled board had approved development contracts that lock in a growth plan for the resort. An effort to void those agreements has since resulted in dueling lawsuits, with Disney suing Mr. DeSantis and his allies in federal court and the governor’s tax district appointees returning fire in state court.

A correction was made on

May 18, 2023


An earlier version of this article referred incorrectly to the Lake Nona project that Disney had planned in Orlando, Fla. The project is near Lake Nona Town Center, not known by that name.

A correction was made on

May 19, 2023


An earlier version of this articlemisstated the name of a luxury hotel that Disney plans to shutter. It is the Galactic Starcruiser, not the Galactic Starship.

How we handle corrections

Brooks Barnes is a media and entertainment reporter, covering all things Hollywood. He joined The Times in 2007 as a business reporter focused primarily on the Walt Disney Company. He previously worked for The Wall Street Journal. @brooksbarnesNYT

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Disney Pulls Plug on $1 Billion Development in Florida? ›

On Thursday, Mr. Iger and Josh D'Amaro, Disney's theme park and consumer products chairman, showed that they were not bluffing, pulling the plug on an office complex that was scheduled for construction in Orlando at a cost of roughly $1 billion.

How did Disney buy all the land in Florida? ›

In 1964, Walt Disney began secretly buying millions of dollars worth of Central Florida farmland. As vast areas of land were purchased in lots of 5,000 acres here, 20,000 there -- at remarkably high prices -- rumors flew as to who needed so much land and had the money to acquire it.

Is Disney moving from California to Florida? ›

Walt Disney Co. is scrapping plans to relocate 2,000 jobs from California to Florida in part because of “changing business conditions” in the state, according to an e-mail to employees seen by Reuters on Thursday.

How much did Disney pay for the land in Florida? ›

In all, the company purchased 27,400 acres for more than $5 million from 51 landowners. The average price of the land after the deal completed was $182 an acre.

Who owned the land Disney bought in Florida? ›

Walt Disney saw things that others could not though. Land in this area of Central Florida was the first thing he needed to buy and the land owned by the Demetree family was one of the first properties bought by Walt, Mary explained.

Is Disney the largest landowner in Florida? ›

As the largest landowner in the region, which was recently renamed the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, Disney maintained a de facto control over the previous board. DeSantis also alleges the February declaration may not be legally binding, citing unnamed legal counsel.

How much of Disney World is undeveloped? ›

So when you say Walt Disney World is huge, you ain't kidding! The Walt Disney World Resort is made up of 47 square miles of land…. or about 30,000 acres. Only about 1100 acres of that land is devoted to the 4 theme parks. In fact, with only 7,100 acres developed, there's quite a lot of room for expansion!

Is Disney cheaper in Florida or California? ›

An overall cost breakdown

But because the prices of Disney-owned hotels near Disneyland are significantly higher (nearly 50% higher, on average) than those near Disney World, the Florida resort tends to net out far cheaper overall than its California counterpart.

Which Disney land is better Florida or California? ›

If you've got 4 or 5 days or more to devote to Disney, I'd choose Florida as there are more parks there and overall there's more to do. Overall, the parks in Florida have many more attractions and rides that are not duplicated at Disneyland/California Adventure than the other way around.

How much are Disney employees paid? ›

Currently, the minimum starting hourly wage for Disney World workers is $15, significantly higher than Florida's state minimum wage of $11, which will rise to $12 in September.

How much do the princesses at Disney make? ›

How much does a Disney Princess make? As of May 18, 2023, the average annual pay for a Disney Princess in the United States is $125,813 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $60.49 an hour.

Who owns the most in Disney? ›

Investors should note that institutions actually own more than half the company, so they can collectively wield significant power. We note that hedge funds don't have a meaningful investment in Walt Disney. Looking at our data, we can see that the largest shareholder is The Vanguard Group, Inc.

Does China own Disneyland? ›

In June 2016, Disney opened the Shanghai Disneyland Theme Park, giving the Chinese government a 57% ownership stake in the Resort and a 30% share in the Disney management company that runs the property.

Is Disney World built on a swamp? ›

So, how was Disney World built on a swamp? Well, it wasn't, not really. They scooped out material from what was to be the Seven Seas Lagoon, made it into a vast dirt mound, and then built Disney World, the theme park we know today, on the top.

How much land does the Mormon Church own in Florida? ›

Joe's 382,834 acres brings the church's Florida holdings to 672,834 acres, or almost 2 percent of the state's land mass. The total does not include smaller isolated church parcels for its Orlando and South Florida temples and other interests. St.

Who owns the most land in FL? ›

Summary of the 11 Largest Landowners in Florida
RankLandownerAcreage Owned
1The St. Joe Company576,000 acres
2Foley Timber and Land Company562,000 acres
3Plum Creek Timber415,000 acres
4Rayonier Company400,000 acres
7 more rows
Apr 6, 2023

Who owns the biggest percentage of Disney? ›

Disney Stock Ownership FAQ

Disney (NYSE: DIS) is owned by 63.73% institutional shareholders, 0.89% Disney insiders, and 35.38% retail investors. Michael D. Eisner is the largest individual Disney shareholder, owning 14.02M shares representing 0.77% of the company.

Is Disney doing well financially? ›

–The Walt Disney Company (NYSE: DIS) today reported earnings for its second quarter ended April 1, 2023. Revenues for the quarter and six months grew 13% and 10%, respectively. Diluted earnings per share (EPS) from continuing operations for the quarter increased to $0.69 from $0.26 in the prior-year quarter.

Is Disney financially strong? ›

The Walt Disney Co (NYSE:DIS) Financial Strength. The Walt Disney Co has the Financial Strength Rank of 6.

How much money does Disney bring to Florida? ›

In short, they generate a lot of tax revenue. Disney says it paid and collected more than $1.1 billion in state and local tax revenues in Florida last year. That's real money, more than a lot of line items in the state budget.

What is Disney getting rid of in 2023? ›

As many of you already know, Splash Mountain permanently closed on January 23rd, 2023. Although we were sad to say goodbye, the same flume-type ride is currently being reimagined to become Tiana's Bayou Adventure, which is set to open in late 2024!

Where will Disney relocate? ›

The Walt Disney Company plans to relocate about 2000 jobs from California to Orlando's Lake Nona community. On June 16, 2022, Disney said the timeline to move its employees to Lake Nona would be delayed from 2022 until 2026.

Could Disney pack up and leave Florida? ›

While Disney could pick up and move some of its businesses from Orlando to another state, Disney World and its other theme parks aren't going anywhere. Moving all the infrastructure, including hotels, restaurants and shops as well as transportation to move guests around, just wouldn't be feasible.

Which is bigger Disney World or land? ›

Disneyland vs. Walt Disney World: Size

When it comes to size, the two parks couldn't be more different. Disneyland covers just 510 acres, whereas Walt Disney World spreads out across an astonishing 43 square miles. That means about 51 Disneylands could fit inside Walt Disney World.

Why is Disney so much more expensive? ›

Disney has an advertising budget to maintain. Disney World wouldn't be the same without all the guests. In order to ensure this steady stream of visitors, Disney invests a significant amount of money into advertising — billions of dollars every year, in fact. High ticket costs help compensate for this fact.

Which Disney is the cheapest? ›

Disney's All Star Movies Resort

This resort has a variety of entertainment options and is a short bus ride to the Animal Kingdom. Starting at just $119 per night, the Disney All Star Movies resort is is the cheapest Disney World resort on our list.

What is the top 1 Disneyland? ›

Disneyland, California

The original and the most iconic Disney park in the world, California's landmark Disneyland was opened by Walt Disney himself in 1955.

What is the best Disney in Florida? ›

Q: What are the three best parks at Disney World? A: The three best Disney World parks are: #1 – Magic Kingdom, #2 – EPCOT, #3 – Animal Kingdom. Unfortunately, Hollywood Studios comes in at fourth on our list because it is very busy with long lines and better suited for teens.

What is the best airport to land for Disney Florida? ›

What are the nearest airports to the Walt Disney World Resort? A: Your best option is to fly into Orlando International Airport (MCO) or Orlando Sanford International Airport (SFB).

Do Disney workers get free tickets? ›

Theme Park Experiences

Complimentary theme park admission for full-time and part-time positions after two weeks of employment.

Who are the highest paid employees at Disney? ›

High-Paying Jobs at The Walt Disney Company
  • Chief Counsel - Disney Parks, Experiences and Products (DPEP) ...
  • SVP, Publicity and Communications (ABC News) ...
  • Mgr-Attractions Operational Technology. ...
  • VP, Creative Advertising Print - Searchlight Pictures. ...
  • Executive Director, Product & Engineering, IAM.

How much do Disney monorail pilots make? ›

Total Pay Estimate & Range

The estimated base pay is $41 per hour.

How much does Tinker Bell get paid to fly? ›

The pay is awesome.

It's rumored that Tink gets paid around $500 per flight across the Magic Kingdom's sky, which isn't bad for 30 seconds of work, if you ask us.

How much do janitors make at Disney World? ›

Average Disney Parks, Experiences and Products Custodian hourly pay in the United States is approximately $15.78, which is 16% above the national average.

How much does Mickey Mouse get paid? ›

How much does a Mickey Mouse make in California? As of May 21, 2023, the average annual pay for a Mickey Mouse in California is $55,285 a year. Just in case you need a simple salary calculator, that works out to be approximately $26.58 an hour. This is the equivalent of $1,063/week or $4,607/month.

What is the most exclusive Disney hotel? ›

The Grand Floridian Resort & Spa is the most expensive Disney-owned hotel and is distinguished as Walt Disney World's flagship resort. It's also considered Disney's most opulent.

What is the most profitable Disney World park? ›

Apart from being the largest amusement park in terms of the number of annual visitors, Magic Kingdom, the first of four parks that comprise Walt Disney World, is also one of the most profitable theme parks in the world. The 107-acre park is estimated to earn more than $78 million in a typical day.

How much of Disney is owned by Chinese companies? ›

Do shareholders know that The Walt Disney Company is engaged in a joint venture with the Chinese Communist Party that allows for the operation of the Shanghai Disney Resort? And it's not an equal split, by the way. Instead, the CCP has 57% ownership while Disney holds only 43% ownership.

Are any Disney family members still involved? ›

Roy's nephew Charles Elias Disney chose to name his son Charles Roy Disney in Roy's honor. Their son, Roy Edward Disney (January 10, 1930 – December 16, 2009), was a longtime senior executive for the Walt Disney Company and the last member of the Disney family to be actively involved in the company.

Who actually owns Disney? ›

Although it was a private company initially owned by two brothers, it has since expanded thanks to its IPO back in 1955. Today, the Walt Disney Company is owned by a multitude of individual and institutional investors who've brought a ton of resources, and accountability to this brand.

How much does Disney make a day? ›

In 2019, the company's parks and resorts division brought in a whopping $20.2 billion revenue. This means that the division generated an average of $55.1 million in revenue per day. According to new reports Disney world net worth 2022 is 203.63 billion U.S. dollars.

How much property does Disney own in Florida? ›

They can have their own lake with the amenities of a getaway spot.” While there's no official confirmation, it's estimated that Disney owns roughly 30,000 acres in Central Florida.

What does China own in Hollywood? ›

Today, China exerts similar power in Hollywood. In the 2010s, the Chinese company Wanda bought AMC for $2.6 billion and Legendary Entertainment for $3.5 billion.

What if Disney left Florida? ›

If Disney were to flee, Florida would lose a visitor magnet and major moneymaker: In 2019, the four theme parks drew nearly 60 million guests combined, according to an industry estimate. And the company said the resort contributed more than $780 million in state and local taxes for fiscal 2021.

How much land does Disney World have left? ›

Disney World sits on roughly 25 THOUSAND acres — about 39 square miles! That's pretty massive! But that doesn't mean we can have close to 40 square miles of theme parks and fun and a LOT goes into why not. We're gonna break it all down for you.

How deep is the river at Disney World? ›

3. The Rivers of America in Frontierland is 4 to 8 feet deep. The first time the man-made river was filled in 1955, the water seeped through the sandy soil.

Who funded Disneyland? ›

Walt and his brother and business partner Roy Disney obtained funding to construct the new venture from ABC, one of the three major networks then in existence, in exchange for creating and hosting an hour-long weekly television show.

Is Disney World still buying land? ›

The coronavirus pandemic has closed Disney's theme parks and put a halt to construction, but it hasn't completely stopped the expansion of Walt Disney World, which recently purchased additional land not far from the Magic Kingdom.

What land did Disney just buy? ›

Today, Disney just took a big step in making that campus a reality. The Orlando Business Journal has reported that an entity associated with Disney, Dynamic Campus LLC, has bought nearly 60 acres of land in the Lake Nona area for around $46 million. The seller of the property was Lake Nona Land Co.

How much of Disney is owned by China? ›

Do shareholders know that The Walt Disney Company is engaged in a joint venture with the Chinese Communist Party that allows for the operation of the Shanghai Disney Resort? And it's not an equal split, by the way. Instead, the CCP has 57% ownership while Disney holds only 43% ownership.

Who owns the most of Disney? ›

Investors should note that institutions actually own more than half the company, so they can collectively wield significant power. We note that hedge funds don't have a meaningful investment in Walt Disney. Looking at our data, we can see that the largest shareholder is The Vanguard Group, Inc.

Where does Disneyland make most of its money? ›

Disney Segment Breakdown: Revenue: Linear Networks, 35%; Direct-to-Consumer, 21%; Content Sales/Licensing and Other, 11%; and Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, 33%; and Operating Income: Linear Networks, 38%; and Disney Parks, Experiences and Products, 62%.

What would happen to Florida economy if Disney left? ›

If Disney were to flee, Florida would lose a visitor magnet and major moneymaker: In 2019, the four theme parks drew nearly 60 million guests combined, according to an industry estimate. And the company said the resort contributed more than $780 million in state and local taxes for fiscal 2021.

Is Disney cheaper if you live in Florida? ›

Basics. The 1-Day Florida Resident ticket gives you entry into one of the 4 Walt Disney World theme parks for one day (Magic Kingdom, EPCOT, Hollywood Studios, or Animal Kingdom). Despite 1-Day base tickets still costing the same, whether you are a resident or not, they do offer savings on the add-on experiences.

How much is it to buy Disney for a day? ›

That means on average you can expect to pay about $135 per adult and $130 per child for one-day tickets. Multi-Day Disney World park passes on the other hand reward you the more days you go and the longer your pass, the less you pay per day.

Does anyone live on Disney World property? ›

The Walt Disney Company has created a gated community known as Golden Oak - named after the company's California ranch. It's the only place in the world where homeowners actually live on Disney park property.

Which is more expensive Disney World or land? ›

The average price for a one-day Disneyland ticket for entry between April and August 2023 is $154. At Disney World, an average Magic Kingdom ticket (the closest park equivalent at Disney World) costs $160, making Disney World tickets, on average, 3.9% more expensive.

Is Disney World moving to Texas? ›

Disney is not relocating their headquarters to Texas. Even plans to relocate a large number of additional employees from California to Florida have been put on pause, so it appears Disney is staying put in California and Florida for a long time.

Which country owns Disney? ›

The Walt Disney Company, commonly known as Disney (/ˈdɪzni/), is an American multinational, mass media and entertainment conglomerate that is headquartered at the Walt Disney Studios complex in Burbank, California.

Does California have Disney land? ›

Step into Disney California Adventure and explore 8 lands with thrilling attractions! As you stroll Buena Vista Street, you may run into a big star like Mickey Mouse. As you stroll Buena Vista Street, you may run into a big star like Mickey Mouse.


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