"DeSantis just cost Florida $1 billion": Disney yanks massive project and 2,000 jobs amid GOP feud

Disney canceled plans to build new Florida campus and relocate 2,000 workers

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Staff Writer

Published May 19, 2023 10:49AM (EDT)

Ron DeSantis | Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World in Orange County, Florida (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)
Ron DeSantis | Main Street USA at the Magic Kingdom Park at Walt Disney World in Orange County, Florida (Photo illustration by Salon/Getty Images)

The Walt Disney Co. said on Thursday that it is canceling its plans to develop a new campus in central Florida and relocate over 2,000 staffers to work in technology, product development and finance, according to The Associated Press.

The decision comes after repeated attacks on the company from Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature over its opposition to the "Don't Say Gay" law, which bans classroom instruction on gender identity and sexual orientation from elementary grades through to the 3rd grade in the state. 

After the company's public opposition to the law last year, DeSantis retaliated against the media conglomerate, stripping Disney's self-governing district through legislation and appointing a new board of directors. The company signed agreements with old board members stripping the new board of design and construction authority before the new board took effect.

In response, the Republican-controlled legislature passed laws overriding those agreements and making the theme park resort's monorail system, once inspected in-house, subject to state inspection. 

Disney filed a lawsuit against DeSantis alleging that he conducted a "targeted campaign of government retaliation" and asking a federal judge to void the theme park district's take over and the DeSantis-appointed board's actions.

Chairman of the Parks Josh D'Amaro told Disney employees in a memo that "new leadership and changing business conditions" prompted Disney to ditch its plans to build the new campus.

"I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business," D'Amaro said. "We have plans to invest $17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the next ten years. I hope we're able to do so."

Florida legislators, legal analysts and media personalities criticized DeSantis following the announcement, accusing the potential 2024 presidential contender of hurting his state's economy.

"This $1 billion development would have employed thousands while positively impacting our tourism industries," Rep. Maxwell Frost, D-Fla., tweeted. "DeSantis is more interested in running for President than running the state of Florida and Floridians are paying the price of his campaign."

"DeSantis is a job killing moron who cares more about his own political ambitions and culture wars than Florida and our future. This is not who you want for President — ever," Democratic state Rep. Anna Eskamani added.

Florida state attorney Andrew Warren called DeSantis' feud with Disney "childish." 

"Now that DeSantis's childish fight with @Disney has cost Floridians $1 billion & 2,000 jobs, he should take all the money he's raised to run for President and invest it in Florida to repay our citizens," he said. "Hurting our economy to score political points is so DeStupid."

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"How many more millions and billions is the fragile ego of Ron Desantis going to cost the people of FL?" questioned former federal prosecutor Ron Flilipkowski.

"The media geniuses behind the DeSantis bigotry campaign cost their state a billion dollars and are now super-defensive. They think Bob Iger is tough on them?" MSNBC host Mehdi Hasan wrote. "Wait till they actually have to take on Trump and co…" 

"DeSantis just cost Florida $1 Billion by picking a fight with the Magic Kingdom to play to a small base of primary voters. He was warned by pro-business Republicans to stop the political posturing against Disney and Bob Iger. So inevitable & unnecessary," tweeted "Morning Joe" host Joe Scarborough.

By Tatyana Tandanpolie

Tatyana Tandanpolie is a staff writer at Salon. Born and raised in central Ohio, she moved to New York City in 2018 to pursue degrees in Journalism and Africana Studies at New York University. She is currently based in her home state and has previously written for local Columbus publications, including Columbus Monthly, CityScene Magazine and The Columbus Dispatch.

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