Disney Cancels Imagineering Transfer to Florida

Disney has introduced that the corporate has cancelled plans for a brand new worker inventive campus for Walt Disney Imagineering and different staff within the Parks & Resorts division in Lake Nona, Florida, amid rising tensions with Governor DeSantis. This put up shares the Josh D’Amaro’s memo to Solid Members, the historical past of the plans to relocate jobs from California, and our commentary.

Citing the return of CEO Bob Iger and “altering enterprise situations” for the corporate, Josh D’Amaro defined in a memo to staff that the corporate is not going to transfer ahead with development of its Lake Nona campus and can not be asking greater than 2,000 California-based staff to relocate to Florida.

The Lake Nona, Florida relocation “saga” started again in July 2021, when the corporate introduced {that a} new regional hub outdoors Orlando would grow to be dwelling to greater than 2,000 skilled jobs relocating from Southern California. On the time, the typical wage for the positions was reported to be $120,000 yearly.

The Lake Nona campus would grow to be the primary campus for Walt Disney Imagineering and others within the Disney Parks, Experiences and Merchandise (DPEP) division. Initially, a lot of the DPEP positions based mostly in Southern California that weren’t totally devoted to Disneyland Resort or the worldwide theme parks can be relocated to Florida.

The relocation would entail most white collar staff from Disney Parks & Resorts relocating, however that may nonetheless solely characterize below 5% of Disney’s whole jobs in California. That’s as a result of the majority of Disney’s California-based workforce is frontline Solid Members at Disneyland Resort, with different white collar campuses for the company headquarters and Walt Disney Animation in Burbank, plus Pixar and Lucasfilm in Northern California, amongst different non-parks divisions within the state.

On the time of announcement, the Lake Nona transfer was then anticipated to happen over the course of 18 months. The brand new campus would start to open by December 2022, and be completely accomplished by 2023. Disney’s Lake Nona campus reportedly had been within the works since 2019.

Precise improvement on the campus started late final 12 months, and the mission had begun transferring ahead with development in early 2023. To one of the best of our data, nothing has but gone vertical on the Lake Nona Inventive Campus–it’s nonetheless largely dust and sod. And apparently, that’s the way it’ll keep. Right here’s the total memo Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro shared with impacted staff:


I wished to let you already know that we’ve simply begun communication relating to our up to date plans for the Lake Nona campus. 

As lots of you already know, the corporate had determined to construct a brand new Disney campus in Lake Nona and plenty of Solid Members, Imagineers, and Staff had been requested to commit to creating a transfer to Florida. Whereas some had been excited concerning the new campus, I do know that this choice and the circumstances surrounding it have been tough for others. 

Given the appreciable adjustments which have occurred because the announcement of this mission, together with new management and altering enterprise situations, we have now determined to not transfer ahead with development of the campus. This was not a straightforward choice to make, however I imagine it’s the proper one. Consequently, we are going to not be asking our staff to relocate. For individuals who have already moved, we are going to discuss to you individually about your state of affairs, together with the potential of transferring you again. 

It’s clear to me that the ability of this model comes from our unimaginable folks, and we’re dedicated to dealing with this alteration with care and compassion. I stay optimistic concerning the course of our Walt Disney World enterprise. We have now plans to take a position $17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the subsequent ten years. I hope we’re in a position to take action. 

We’re dedicated to our groups who name Central Florida dwelling and to all of our Solid Members world wide, and I need to thanks on your continued dedication to Disney Parks, Experiences and Merchandise and for delivering world-class leisure for our Friends.


A couple of hours after D’Amaro’s memo started making the rounds, Walt Disney World Resort President Jeff Vahle despatched an announcement providing reassurance to Central Florida companies and group stakeholders.

Notably, each of those statements reiterate that the corporate is dedicated to investing in Central Florida, and double-down on previous remarks about $17 billion in future investments. Neither invoke the Disney vs. DeSantis battle, and as a substitute body this as a crucial enterprise choice based mostly upon evolving financial situations.

Right here’s Vahle’s letter to Central Florida companies:

Expensive Group Leaders,

Right this moment, you will have heard the information that Disney is not transferring ahead on the development of a brand new campus within the thriving and rising group of Lake Nona in Orlando. Since we first introduced this mission, a number of dynamics have modified, together with a change in firm management and evolving financial and enterprise situations.

Relating to our world-class vacation spot, our want is to proceed investing in our core enterprise in an effort to draw and welcome thousands and thousands of tourists to Walt Disney World and Central Florida annually to allow them to benefit from the form of hospitality our area is understood for world wide. Our plans at present name for us to take a position $17 billion in Walt Disney World over the subsequent 10 years and create 13,000 new jobs to proceed doing our half as a number one employer within the hospitality and themed leisure trade. We hope these plans will grow to be a future actuality.

For many years, we have now operated our enterprise responsibly and being the area’s largest taxpayer, we paid and picked up over $1.1 billion in state and native taxes throughout final 12 months alone.

As the biggest single-site employer in Central Florida, we’re deeply rooted on this group, and we proceed to make investments for the betterment of our area similar to our contribution of 80 acres of land to create inexpensive and attainable housing for our group, which we introduced final 12 months. Groundbreaking on this improvement is focused for subsequent 12 months, with the primary of 1,400 items anticipated to be accomplished in 2026.

We additionally proceed to spend money on our group by means of our broad array of philanthropic and citizenship efforts. During the last 20 months, we’ve supplied $6.5 million in grants to domestically based mostly, non-profit organizations similar to Give Children The World, Boys & Ladies Golf equipment of Central Florida, Second Harvest Meals Financial institution of Central Florida, Conservation Florida, Coronary heart of Florida United Method, Hope Partnership, The Nature Conservancy and extra. That is on high of the donation of thousands and thousands of hours of time that our Solid Members have contributed to deserving organizations over the a long time.

After all, none of this may be potential with out the wonderful dedication of the 75,000 Solid Members who name Central Florida their dwelling. To them, we provide one of the best general advantages package deal within the Central Florida hospitality trade, together with an $18 minimal wage by the tip of the 12 months – which is nicely above the state’s minimal wage – inexpensive medical protection, sponsored childcare, entry to free greater schooling by means of Disney Aspire our 100% paid tuition packages, and pathways to assist Solid at each step of their profession.

Whereas as we speak’s choice was not simple, we stay dedicated to our Solid Members in addition to you and our fantastic group.


Jeff Vahle
Walt Disney World Resort

In response to this information, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis issued the next assertion: “Disney introduced the potential of a Lake Nona campus almost 2 years in the past. Nothing ever got here of the mission, and the state was not sure whether or not it will come to fruition.”

“Given the corporate’s monetary straits, falling market cap and declining inventory value, it’s unsurprising that they’d restructure their enterprise operations and cancel unsuccessful ventures.”

As in comparison with previous remarks, a fairly restrained and measured assertion by the governor. After all, that is solely the official and speedy press launch. It stays to be seen what he’ll say in response to reporter questions or throughout his subsequent public look.

When it comes to commentary, we are able to’t say that we’re too shocked by this announcement. Throughout final week’s earnings name, CEO Bob Iger was requested concerning the firm’s “struggle” with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the way that would affect the way forward for improvement at Walt Disney World.

In response, Iger gave a long-winded reply, which ended with the thinly-veiled risk to droop improvement plans/open query to Governor DeSantis: does the state need us to take a position extra, make use of extra folks, and pay extra taxes, or not?

Final week’s put up, Will Bob Iger Finish Investments in Disney World?, mentioned Iger’s risk/query (it additionally accommodates his quote in full), and concluded that it was largely hole.

There have been a few exceptions to that, similar to holding off on asserting plans for the parks that aren’t slated to start development till late 2024 or 2025 and likewise, the Lake Nona relocation. With that stated, we didn’t predict this. Our expectation was that the relocation can be paused, ready out the 2024 election and the present authorized challenges and standoff to blow over.

The Lake Nona relocation had already been delayed and doubtless would have had hassle assembly its present goal date as-is. Formally hitting the brakes on that and leaving these jobs in California would sign that Disney is “severe” about its funding risk for Florida. On condition that, we’re stunned that the plans are being cancelled outright.

Nevertheless, it’s potential that that is merely a simple enterprise choice based mostly on evolving financial situations. It’s additionally potential that recently-returned CEO Bob Iger made this transfer based mostly on worker morale, and he by no means supported the choice to relocate Imagineering from California to Florida within the first place. Even occurring within the shadow of DeSantis vs. Disney, it’s fully believable that that is wholly or largely unrelated.

For these wanting extra background concerning the deserted relocation plans, Lake Nona is a master-planned group developed by the aforementioned Tavistock Co., and is positioned southeast of Orlando Worldwide Airport. It’s dwelling to amenities like Nemours Youngsters’s Hospital and College of Central Florida’s School of Medication.

For the Californians studying this, the closest comparability might be Irvine and its eponymous actual property improvement firm. An up-and-coming space of Central Florida, Lake Nona is already dwelling to a revered roster of corporations.

As for Disney-controlled Dynamic Campus LLC bought actual property from Lake Nona Land Co. LLC, which is linked to Lake Nona developer Tavistock Improvement Co. for $46.4 million, or roughly $766,666 per acre again in Fall 2021. Disney projected that it will spend as much as $864 million to construct the campus, however it will have been eligible to assert greater than $570 million in tax breaks over 20 years for the mission from the state of Florida.

Web site prep work started shortly thereafter in Late 2021, as Disney shifted its plans into excessive gear as a way to meet its personal (on the time) self-imposed 18 month timeline. Simultaneous to that, Imagineers and different staff had been requested to tell the corporate as to whether or not they’d make the transfer.

In the event you observe any Imagineers on social media, you in all probability noticed the ‘farewell’ posts as many opted to depart Imagineering slightly than relocate to Florida. A minimum of a few of the undercurrent of hostility by creatives in direction of former CEO Bob Chapek stemmed from the best way this relocation announcement was initially dealt with.

There have been different points even comparatively early on. Rumblings from throughout the firm advised that sure positions can be exempted from the relocation, particularly these the place the corporate has a harder time buying expertise and competing with different industries. (Initially, the relocation was rumored to be extra focused, slightly than an across-the-board transfer of the core Imagineering campus from Glendale to Lake Nona.)

Following that, job postings on the Disney Careers web site indicated that roles at present based mostly in Southern California can be relocating to Orlando by late 2024. These postings had been shortly deleted or modified, however advised the transfer wouldn’t be accomplished throughout the 12 months.

Quick ahead about 11 months after the preliminary announcement and the timeline was formally pushed again. At the moment, Disney spokeswoman Jacquee Wahler stated that the anticipated opening date for the Lake Nona campus was pushed again to 2026 as a way to “give folks extra time” and accommodate the development timeline for the brand new places of work.

Disney particularly acknowledged that the standoff with Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and the Reedy Creek Enchancment District dissolution controversy had nothing to do with the delay. Now, I’m no math whizz, but when the preliminary timeline is eighteen months and the revised timeline is a minimum of 3 years after the mission was initially slated to be accomplished…one thing is up past simply routine delays. (They knew staff would wish time to relocate–that wasn’t some surprising revelation final 12 months.)

The plan under comes courtesy of a report in GrowthSpotter, which reveals that Tavistock submitted an utility for a framework grasp plan on behalf of Disney. Per this, International structure agency HOK is main the design work for the mission, alongside Harris Civil Engineers. The appliance was filed in time to get on the March 9 agenda for the town’s new Improvement Overview Committee.

HOK has created company campuses for a few of the world’s largest firms, together with Honeywell, LG and Norfolk Southern, and focuses on sustainable design. For the LG North America headquarters in New Jersey, the 350,000-square-foot headquarters workplace achieved Platinum LEED certification.

Building of the Disney’s Lake Nona campus was to be phased. Upon completion, it will have consisted of six workplace buildings, two flex buildings, three parking garages, a central plant, and a floor parking zone for guests. Whereas the zoning permits for a most peak of 10 tales, the preliminary plan referred to as for buildings to vary in peak from 4 to seven tales. Every of the parking garages would have six ranges.

The majority of the constructed setting, 1.46 million sq. ft, is outlined as normal places of work, whereas the remaining 346,000 sq. ft might be flex workplace/industrial. The places of work featured 60,000 sq. ft of photo voltaic panels plus 2 acres of inexperienced roofs to satisfy the dedication to be carbon net-zero.

Turning to commentary, I’ve blended ideas about each the plan to relocate to Florida and its cancellation. The Lake Nona relocation isn’t a subject we’ve lined right here a lot, save for offhand feedback right here and there. Largely, that’s due to the human aspect of the story–whereas Florida-based DPEP staff had been undoubtedly excited to have extra of their colleagues near them, California-based ones have needed to make robust selections.

It’s additionally as a result of I actually didn’t suppose the relocation would occur, particularly after the showdown between the corporate and DeSantis that has now dragged out into its second 12 months. One other hesitation is an offshoot of that, as this relocation has grow to be one more flashpoint within the tradition wars, representing the “battle” of Florida v. California for some folks.

Having lived in each Central Florida and Southern California–and the respective Orange Counties that Disney’s theme parks name dwelling–our view is that that is unreasonably reductive and never essentially reflective of actuality. To make sure, there are variations between the 2, however no state is monolithic. That’s very true of ones as massive and numerous as each Florida and California.

As famous above, a good comparability for Lake Nona is Irvine, California. It’s not like this up-and-coming part of Central Florida is similar because the Villages or some rural a part of the panhandle. This isn’t to say that there will not be materials variations between the 2–there completely are–simply that household, colleges, mates, and different methods folks set up roots are probably the extra important, overriding issues.

Reasonably than turning this into one other matter on company governance, we’re going to have a look at this from a visitor perspective–or extra particularly, the perspective of Walt Disney World followers. Even should you’re a Florida-centric fan, it should be acknowledged that there’s a ton of historical past in Glendale for Walt Disney Imagineering, and it will have been unhappy to lose that. It might appear insignificant to newer followers, however the creatives strolling halls and utilizing the places of work of the early greats of WED needed to have been inspiring and vital and mirrored within the work product.

After all, it’s the folks and never the buildings that give establishments which means, so the larger blow is to the inventive tradition. A part of this has probably already enjoying out by advantage of blows to morale. Once more, this has performed out in public view on social media, as departing Imagineers and others who opted towards relocating have expressed animosity and anger with the corporate. Some went from being stewards of WED’s wealthy legacy to downright disillusioned and resentful.

Even with the plans to relocate Imagineering from Glendale to Lake Nona being cancelled, that bell can’t be unrung. The those who have already departed Disney are gone, and the morale injury is completed. A minimum of it’s not being exacerbated by following by means of with plans that appeared more and more untenable.

Past broader worker morale, there’s additionally the chance of dropping tenured creatives with a long time of expertise and data. This Lake Nona transfer additionally would have functioned as a layoff in disguise. On condition that older staff are usually these with stronger ties to a spot and fewer to achieve by a late profession transfer, it’s probably they had been disproportionate departures from Disney.

Walt Disney Imagineering was hit laborious even earlier than this in 2020, and it’s unattainable to say how lots of the latest high-profile retirements have really been “retirements” (with heavy air quotes). Joe Rohde and Bob Weis shortly getting new jobs after leaving Disney strongly means that these had been “retirements.”

Already, the adverse ramifications of dropping older staff has been evident at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. The lack of institutional data has resulted in perplexing selections, from the usage of non-durable supplies in designs to upkeep woes (and doubtless much more of which we’re unaware). This isn’t simply an Imagineering concern–it’s been a battle for the parks since reopening, and it’ll take years to rebuild sure departments that relied on the data and abilities of staff who had honed their craft over the course of a long time with Disney.

From the skin trying in, I’d think about that there would have been different adverse penalties of Imagineering not being close to Disney’s company headquarters. I received’t faux to know the way commonly these from the c-suite drop in on the Imagineering R&D labs, enter the Dish, or in any other case poke round–however I’m guessing it’ll occur far much less when it requires a cross-country flight as a substitute of a ~15 minute drive.

Having a inventive campus close to the Disney headquarters in Burbank probably serve not solely as a reminder of the company ethos, but in addition a great way to excite executives about cool initiatives–and perhaps even get issues greenlit.

There additionally probably would’ve been upside in Imagineering transferring to Florida for followers. Central Florida is step by step turning into the epicenter of the themed design world, with a ton of contractors and distributors being based mostly within the space. It’s laborious to see that shift reversing course, particularly as main new parks (Epic Universe) and unbiased initiatives (AREA15) grow to be more and more widespread.

From a improvement perspective, Southern California is basically built-out whereas Central Florida is upstart and booming. There’s potential for much more to return in and round Orlando. That is positively counterintuitive given the status of California as a tech hub–and there’s a lot being in-built SoCal–however not on par with the explosion in Central Florida.

There’s additionally worth in having the “dwelling parks” of extra Imagineers be Walt Disney World. With out query, Disneyland will get particular therapy and a spotlight, which is for numerous causes from Walt’s legacy to native demographics. It’s additionally a minimum of partly as a result of Disneyland is nearer to influential people throughout the firm. Had Walt Disney World grow to be the house parks for extra Imagineers, it’s probably they’d’ve pursued little pet initiatives in Florida.

It’s additionally tough to disclaim that a number of what will get designed for Walt Disney World comes from a really “California-centric” viewpoint. By this, I’m particularly referring to the climate. Don’t get me improper, I really like Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge. Despite the fact that I’m not an enormous fan of Toy Story Land, I’ll admit that it has its moments.

Nevertheless, each have obvious points that aren’t a results of price range cuts or worth engineering. These issues are aware design selections that may’ve seemed or sounded cool in concept, however clashed with the laborious realities of getting to exist in a working theme park topic to issues like Florida climate.

Fairly merely, these lands don’t really feel like they had been designed by anybody who ever spent a full day outdoors in Orlando. That is one other factor that probably would’ve benefited from extra Imagineers being nearer to Walt Disney World. However now I assume we’ll by no means discover out!

In the end, that simply scratches the floor on the professionals and cons of the Lake Nona transfer and its cancellation, and is admittedly coming from an outsider’s perspective. I received’t faux that I’ve a whole grasp of the potential advantages and adverse ramifications of such a transfer, and there’s undoubtedly rather a lot that I’m lacking.

From the beginning, I don’t suppose this information was dealt with nicely and it couldn’t have come at a worse time again in 2021. Morale at Parks & Resorts was already unhealthy, and this actually has not helped. Even making the very beneficiant assumption that the corporate had good motivations within the transfer, Disney might have had an extended timeline from the outset or approached the transfer in a extra methodical method. As a substitute, this was hamfisted and unorganized from the outset, with an excessively aggressive timeline that in all probability was not viable whatever the intervening controversies.

I doubt many individuals inner or exterior would’ve argued towards two large-scale inventive campuses–one in Glendale and one in Lake Nona–and letting staff select the place they wished to work. Like so many bulletins executed below the Chapek regime, Disney as a substitute took a “worst of each worlds” strategy as a substitute of making an attempt to string the needle and switch the Lake Nona campus right into a constructive for the corporate and Walt Disney Imagineering.

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What do you consider Imagineering and the remainder of DPEP cancelling plans to relocate to Lake Nona, Florida? Suppose WDI staying in Glendale might be a constructive or adverse–or a combination of each–for Imagineering and Disney followers? Agree with our takes concerning the good and unhealthy of transfer? Do you agree or disagree with our evaluation? Be happy to share your perspective, however preserve the feedback civil. This isn’t the place for politically-charged arguing, tradition wars, antagonism, private assaults, or low cost photographs. We might be heavy-handed in deleting any feedback that cross the road, no matter viewpoint.

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