Disney plans to spend billions in Florida despite DeSantis fight
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Despite the battle with Governor Ron DeSantis, Disney remains committed to the State of Florida.
The media and theme park juggernaut intends to invest $17 billion in the Walt Disney World center in central Florida over the next decade, which includes the potential creation of 13,000 jobs.
These numbers have been echoed by CEO Bob Iger and parks chief Josh D’Amaro over the past few months as tensions between Disney and Florida lawmakers have continued to escalate. The fight has taken on even more significance now that DeSantis is officially running for president.
In April, the company filed a lawsuit accusing DeSantis and new board members of its special district of conducting a political retaliation campaign against the entertainment giant.
DeSantis targeted Disney’s special area, formerly the Reedy Creek Beautification District, after the company publicly criticized Florida’s controversial “Don’t Say Gay” bill, which restricts discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in classrooms.
“We never wanted and certainly never expected to have to defend our business interests in federal court, especially with such an amazing relationship with the state that we have had for over 50 years,” Iger said. during the company’s earnings report earlier this month.
Disney recently abandoned plans to open a new employee campus in Lake Nona, Florida, citing “changing business conditions.” This means the company will also no longer be asking more than 2,000 employees from California to move to Florida. The location was not part of Disney’s $17 billion investment plan.
D’Amaro, who leads Disney’s parks, experiences and consumer products division, confirmed Iger’s sentiment earlier this week during JP Morgan’s global technology, media and communications conference. He told viewers that the $17 billion investment “gives you an idea of how aggressive we are at Walt Disney World.”
“And that includes things like the Epcot transformation,” he explained. “That includes things like the new Star Tours attraction, we have the new Tiana attraction coming soon. So we’re pretty aggressive about where we can get stuff in Florida.”
Epcot already opened Remy’s Adventures in Ratatouille at the France Pavilion at the end of October, and also last year introduced Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, a roller coaster at the Wonders of Xandar pavilion based on a fictional planet from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The park also has a new Space 220 restaurant.
The park has yet to visit the Moana Theme Park called Journey Through the Water, a self-guided outdoor trail where guests can play and interact with the water. It should open at the end of 2023.
At Disney World’s Hollywood studios, as well as California’s Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, the company is looking to add more stories and characters to its Star Tours attraction. In addition, Splash Mountain is being updated with the Princess and the Frog theme at both local resorts.
The company is also renovating several of its hotels and resorts in Florida.
D’Amaro added that the $17 billion figure for Florida also includes some of the “blue sky” ideas the company unveiled last year at the D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. These projects are still in the early stages of development and may not see the light of day.
During this presentation last September, D’Amaro spoke about the possibility of redevelopment of Dino Land at Animal Kingdom in Orlando. Initial ideas for the space include the ability to bring Zootopia, with its variety of areas and animal species, or even Moana into the park.
In the Magic Kingdom, Disney asks the question, “What’s behind Big Thunder Mountain?” The company teased that the area based on “Coco” could be in this location or “Encanto”. Perhaps both.
D’Amaro even hinted at the possibility of recreating an area of the Magic Kingdom taken over by Disney villains.
Prices for these projects will vary if they come to fruition, but for reference, the two Star Wars: Galaxy Edge lands at Disneyland and Disney World are valued at $1 billion each.
Disney theme parks have been a bright spot for the company as visitor numbers have increased significantly in the months following the pandemic shutdown. The parks, experiences and products division’s revenue increased 17% year-on-year to $7.7 billion in the most recent quarter.
About $5.5 billion of that revenue came from its theme parks. The company said guests spent more time and money during the quarter visiting its parks, hotels and cruises both domestically and internationally. In particular, the number of days of passenger cruises has increased in its cruise business.
“We view this business as a key growth driver for the company,” Iger said during Disney’s recent earnings call.