Trump campaign knocks DeSantis over Disney’s cancelled Florida expansion

Donald Trump’s 2024 campaign wasted no time in knocking Florida Governor Ron DeSantis over the news that Disney is cancelling a $1bn plan to expand its business in Florida.

The campaign for the former president to return to the White House sent out a fundraising email on 18 May after the news broke about the shelving of the planned relocation of some thousands of staff to the Orlando area.

Headlined: “President Trump is always right”, the email included a Truth Social post from Mr Trump dated 18 April.

The post reads: “DeSanctus is being absolutely destroyed by Disney. His original P.R. plan fizzled, so now he’s going back with a new one in order to save face. Disney’s next move will be the announcement that no more money will be invested in Florida because of the Governor.”

He continues: “In fact, they could even announce a slow withdrawal or sale of certain properties, or the whole thing. Watch! That would be a killer. In the meantime, this is all so unnecessary, a political STUNT! Ron should work on the squatter MESS!”

Walt Disney has pulled the plug on a $1bn office complex in central Florida, following a warning from Disney leadership that billions of dollars in projects were on the line after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis escalated his feud with the company.

The development scheduled for construction in the Orlando area was set to bring 2,000 jobs to the region, with 1,000 employees expected to be relocated from southern California.

In an email to employees on 18 May, Disney’s theme park and consumer products chair Josh D’Amaro pointed to “changing business conditions” for the cancellation of the 60-acre Lake Nona Town Center project, according to The New York Times, which first reported the move.

“I remain optimistic about the direction of our Walt Disney World business,” he added, noting that the company has still planned $17bn in projects over the next decade at its Disney World campus. “I hope we’re able to,” he said.

For years, Florida legislators and the governor’s office enjoyed a close relationship with the state’s largest taxpayers, among the state’s largest employers, which has wielded enormous political influence while bringing in billions of dollars to the state each year.

Now, the company and DeSantis allies are suing one another, following a year-long feud over opposition to what opponents have called Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law that boiled over into political and legal battles that could shape the company’s business in the state.

Moments after a board appointed by Mr DeSantis voted to strip the company’s control of its Florida park, Disney filed a federal lawsuit against the governor and state officials alleging a “targeted campaign of government retaliation” for “expressing a political viewpoint.”

The lawsuit follows the governor’s state takeover of the Reedy Creek Improvement District, now the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, made up of conservative activists and DeSantis loyalists, a move that followed Florida Republicans’ punitive measures against the company after its public opposition to the “Don’t Say Gay” law.

Days later, the board voted to sue Disney in state court.

In March, Disney slammed the governor’s “anti-business” approach to the company, which Mr DeSantis has accused of advancing a “woke agenda” while his administration targets LGBT+ people and their families with sweeping laws to control public school education, healthcare access and speech.

The governor dissolved a decades-old municipal district that allowed Disney to control its own land use, zoning rules and public services, without putting a tax burden on Florida residents. In effect, Disney taxed itself to foot the district’s bill for its municipal needs.

“Does the state want us to invest more, employ more people, and pay more taxes, or not?” Disney CEO Bob Iger said on a conference call with analysts last week.

A statement from Disney said the company has decided to pull out of the new campus construction “given the considerable changes that have occurred since the announcement of this project, including new leadership and changing business conditions.”

Governor DeSantis’s office said in a statement: “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.”

Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings released his own statement reading: “It is unfortunate that Disney will not be moving forward with construction of the Lake Nona campus. However, these are the consequences when there isn’t an inclusive and collaborative work environment between the state of Florida and the business community.”

He concluded by saying: “We will continue to work closely with our valued partners at Disney.”