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Disney is scrapping plans for a new $1 billion Florida campus

<i>Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images</i><br/>Visitors walk along Main Street at The Magic Kingdom as Walt Disney World in September 2022 in Orlando
Bryan R. Smith/AFP/Getty Images
Visitors walk along Main Street at The Magic Kingdom as Walt Disney World in September 2022 in Orlando

By Allison Morrow and Natasha Chen, CNN

(CNN) — Disney on Thursday upped the ante in its battle with Florida’s Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis, and it cost his state 2,000 white-collar jobs.

The company is scrapping plans to build a $1 billion office complex in Florida, citing “changing business conditions,” according to a memo provided by a Disney spokesperson.

The Lake Nona development was envisioned as a regional hub for parks and resorts. Most of the 2,000 jobs, which included roles in finance, technology, and marketing, were set to be moved from California.

Already, around 200 people had moved to Florida, the spokesperson said, and an unspecified number of people had quit.

“We will no longer be asking our employees to relocate,” the memo stated. “For those who have already moved, we will talk to you individually about your situation, including the possibility of moving you back.”

DeSantis vs Disney

The decision comes at a time when the company is openly feuding with DeSantis, who is expected to officially enter the 2024 GOP presidential race next week, CNN reported Thursday.

A spokesperson for DeSantis said it was “unsurprising” that Disney would cancel the project “given the company’s financial straits, falling market cap and declining stock price.”

Disney, along with the broader media industry, is grappling with a difficult advertising environment and a massive writers strike. Earlier this year it announced it would be cutting 7,000 jobs as part of a cost-cutting effort.

Separately, the company confirmed Thursday that it would shut down its Star Wars: Galactic Starcruiser resort at Disney World just over a year after it opened.

The popular attraction “will take its final voyage” at the end of September, Disney said, adding that it is working with guests to rebook reservations for later in the year.

The mayor of Orange County, where the Lake Nona campus would have been built, called the decision “unfortunate” in a statement Thursday.

“However, these are the consequences when there isn’t an inclusive and collaborative work environment between the state of Florida and the business community,” Mayor Jerry L. Demings said. “We will continue to work closely with our valued partners at Disney.”

The head of the state’s Democratic party slammed the governor’s “unhinged personal vendetta against Disney” for costing Florida 2,000 jobs and millions in additional revenue.

“DeSantis has single-handedly and decidedly made Florida an anti-business state,” said Florida Democratic Party Chair Nikki Fried in a statement. “Unfortunately, today’s news isn’t a shock for those of us who have been living through his reign of terror, and Floridians are already paying a high price.”

The bill that started the feud

Disney (DIS) and DeSantis have been sparring for over a year about controversial legislation the governor signed that restricts the teaching of sexual orientation and gender identity in schools. Critics have labeled the law “Don’t Say Gay.”

The fight has intensified in recent months after DeSantis moved to take over the company’s special tax district setting rules for Disney World and surrounding areas. DeSantis has tried to install a hand-picked board to oversee the district. Before the Florida government selected the board in February, Disney had reached agreements with the outgoing board that limited the power of DeSantis’ appointees.

The two sides are now locked in a legal battle, with Disney arguing in its federal lawsuit that the actions by DeSantis and the state of Florida were a violation of its First Amendment rights to free speech.

Last month, Disney CEO Bob Iger told shareholders at its annual meeting that he believed DeSantis’ actions to punish Disney, one of the state’s largest employers, were “anti-business” and “anti-Florida.”

And on a call with investors following its quarterly earnings report last week, Iger suggested that DeSantis and Florida’s legislature was putting at risk the company’s plans to invest $17 billion in Florida, and create 13,000 jobs, over the next 10 years.

“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people and pay more taxes or not?” Iger asked rhetorically during that investor call.

Following those comments, Disney did not respond to inquires as to whether it was changing those Florida investment plans. Thursday’s announcement was perhaps a first step in changing those plans.

Disney’s stock rose slightly after its announcement.

– CNN’s Steve Contorno and Chris Isidore contributed reporting.

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