Disney plans to spend billions in Florida despite DeSantis fight

  • Disney plans to invest $17 billion in Florida over the next decade, including creating 13,000 jobs.
  • The company reiterated its commitment to the state despite ongoing tensions with Gov. Ron DeSantis.
  • The $17 billion investment includes the ongoing transformation of Epcot, the renovation of Splash Mountain, and a series of “blue sky” park plans.

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Despite his battle with Governor Ron DeSantis, Disney remains committed to the state of Florida.

The theme park and media giant will invest $17 billion in the Walt Disney World hub in central Florida over the next decade, including the potential creation of 13,000 jobs.

Those numbers have been echoed by CEO Bob Iger and parks chief Josh D’Amaro in recent months as tensions between Disney and Florida lawmakers continue to escalate. The fight has become even more important now that DeSantis is officially running for president.

In April, the company filed a lawsuit accusing DeSantis and new board members from his special district of running a political retribution campaign against the entertainment giant.

DeSantis took aim at Disney’s special district, formerly called the Reedy Creek Improvement District, after the company publicly criticized a controversial Florida bill, dubbed “Don’t Say Gay” by critics, that limits discussion of sexual orientation and gender identity in the classroom.

“We never wanted, and certainly never expected, to be in the position of having to defend our business interests in federal court, particularly with such a great relationship with the state that we’ve had for more than 50 years,” Iger said. during the company’s earnings call earlier this month.

Disney recently scrapped plans to open a new employee campus in Lake Nona, Florida, citing “changing business conditions.” This means the company will no longer ask more than 2,000 California employees to relocate to Florida. That location was not part of Disney’s $17 billion investment plan.

D’Amaro, who heads Disney’s parks, experiences and consumer products division, reiterated Iger’s sentiments earlier this week during JP Morgan’s Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference. He told audience members that the $17 billion investment “gives you an idea of ​​how aggressive we are being at Walt Disney World.”

“And this includes things like the Epcot transformation,” he explained. “It includes things like a new Star Tours attraction coming up, we have a new Tiana attraction coming up. So, we’re thinking pretty aggressively about where we can take things in Florida.”

Epcot already opened Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure at the France pavilion in late October and also introduced Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, a roller coaster at the Wonders of Xandar Pavilion last year, based on the fictional planet from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The park also has a new restaurant called Space 220.

Still coming to the park is the “Moana” theme park area called The Journey of Water, a self-guided outdoor trail where guests can play and interact with water. It is scheduled to open at the end of 2023.

At Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, as well as California-based Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, the company is ready to add more stories and characters to its Star Tours attraction. In addition, it is updating Splash Mountain at both national resorts with a “The Princess and the Frog” theme.

The company is also upgrading several of its hotel and resort locations 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 during its D23 Expo in Anaheim, California. These projects are still in early development and may not see the light of day.

During that presentation last September, D’Amaro discussed the possibility of revamping Dino Land at Animal Kingdom in Orlando. Initial ideas for the space include the possibility of bringing “Zootopia” to the park, including its variety of animal districts and species, or even “Moana.”

At the Magic Kingdom, Disney asks the question, “What’s behind Big Thunder Mountain?” The company teased that an area based on “Coco” could be in that location or “Enchantment”. Maybe both.

D’Amaro even hinted at the possibility of bringing to life an area of ​​the Magic Kingdom overrun by Disney villains.

Price points will vary for these projects, should they come to fruition, but for reference, the two lands for Star Wars: Galaxy Edge at Disneyland and Disney World are estimated to cost $1 billion each.

Disney theme parks have been a bright spot for the company, as guest visits have rebounded significantly in the months since the pandemic shutdowns. The parks, experiences and products divisions experienced a 17% year-over-year increase in revenue to $7.7 billion during the most recent quarter.

About $5.5 billion of that revenue came from its theme park locations. The company said guests spent more time and money during the quarter visiting its parks, hotels and cruise ships both domestically and internationally. Its cruise business, in particular, saw an increase in passenger cruise days.

“We view this business as a key growth driver for the company,” Iger said during Disney’s recent earnings call.