Disney Cancels Plans to Relocate Thousands of Employees to Lake Nona, Florida

Disney revealed this afternoon that it is officially canceling its plan to relocate Walt Disney Imagineering and other Disney Parks, Experiences, and Products employees to Florida. The Lake Nona project was a plan to build offices and housing community for around 2000 employees and their families in a move to relocate various departments from California to Central Florida.

The Lake Nona, FL project was originally announced in 2021 and received some backlash from employees in California that weren’t eager to relocate. This is a sudden move. As recently as January 2023, Disney began filing the paperwork needed for the proposed 1.8 million-square-foot corporate campus. This was going to be a large financial investment for Disney in the Florida area.

Here’s What Disney Shared on the Cancellation

Photo via University of Southern California

In a memo sent from Josh D’Amaro to cast members, D’Amaro stated that “Given the considerable changes that have occurred since the announcement of his project, including new leadership and changing business conditions, we have decided not to move forward with construction of the campus.”

The memo continued on to say Disney believes this was not an easy decision but one they feel is the right one. And since the plans to construct Lake Nona are canceled, “As a result, we will no longer be asking our employees to relocate.” D’Amaro goes on in the memo to assure employees that have already relocated that Disney will be reaching out to them to discuss their individual situations along with the possibility of moving them back to California.

The memo ends with D’Amaro making an interesting remark about Disney’s future plans to continue to invest “$17 billion and create 13,000 jobs over the next ten years in Florida” while also noting that he hopes “they will be able to do so.”

The planned move to Lake Nona was architected during the time that Bob Chapek was Disney CEO.

This is a considerable move from Disney as the planned Lake Nona campus was a significant investment in Central Florida and happens at the same time the Walt Disney Company and the Governor of Florida are entangled in a recent lawsuit. You can read more about the back-and-forth between Disney and Ron DeSantis in our article covering the entire case surrounding the Reedy Creek District. If you are concerned about potential impacts on your Walt Disney World vacation, you can read our speculation on how DeSantis vs Disney might impact future Walt Disney World trips.

A statement from the Orange County Mayor, Jerry L. Demings, calls the decision unfortunate and states that “these are the consequences when there isn’t an inclusive and collaborative work environment between the state of Florida and the business community” in reference to the Disney vs DeSantis back and forth.

How Does This Impact Theme Park Visitors?

Concept art of the DisneylandForward potential expansion

In many ways, this is a win for Disneyland visitors as there is a general benefit to having corporate close by. The watchful eyes of lead Imagineers and passionate leadership of the Disney Parks ensure that the smallest details are always kept up. This is one of the elements of the charm of the original Disneyland vs the much larger Walt Disney World Resort. The move wouldn’t have taken this scrutiny away completely because the corporate leadership at Disney and the star power that works with the studio wasn’t going anywhere and they are a key part of this corporate oversight. I have heard stories of notable stars that work with Disney creatively calling Disney CEO Bob Iger’s office directly to complain about park rules or things that they perceive to be off. Disneyland would still have benefited from this, but having the Imagineers right up the street is even more of a plus.

Easy access for the folks that control the pocketbooks can lead to projects (looking at you, DisneylandForward!) getting additional support and simply fostering more creative freedom. Special tests of new characters and surprise celebrity appearances also only happen because of this Hollywood proximity. It goes without saying that having the Imagineers close to the theme park is going to be beneficial for that individual theme park. That easy access is going to naturally inspire creative motivation, expression, and familiarity with the park.

There is also the larger influence of improving employee morale as many Imagineers vocally contested this move to Florida when the decision was first made. Walt Disney Imagineering has been in Glendale, California, just a short drive from the Disney Studio Lot in Burbank, California since Walt Disney’s era. The Imagineering organization has benefited from close proximity to Hollywood where craftspeople can create careers woven in and out of the film and television industry and the theme park industry. Moving the group to Florida would have created an isolated design team removed from the plethora of creative influences present in the various arts institutions and industries in Los Angeles.

The biggest bummer with this head fake move is that many Imagineers have already relocated or left the company because they chose not to move to Florida which was already very much in process. Many, with years of experience, have made California their home and were not willing to uproot their families to move across the country. Those Imagineers left the company.

The retirements of well-known Imagineers like Joe Rohde and Bob Weiss led many Disney fans to speculate that those announced retirements were in fact actually just a departure from Disney. A quote from Bob Weiss, prior head of Disney Imagineering, posted today to his LinkedIn profile seems to confirm this speculation.

Radiator Springs Racers

“Florida is a great place to work and live—I have. But after Covid, and so many other things, there was nothing more damaging to the legacy and amazing unmatched talent of Imagineering than that chapter, and it was self-inflicted. WDI ENDURES as the lab Walt himself founded, a short drive from where his studio office sits beautifully restored, and where sat Chairpeople from Walt to Card, to Roy to Michael, to thankfully now Bob Iger, who all recognized the value of having a visionary organization right at their fingertips; down the street, and connected to the central vision. Thank heaven to all Imagineers!” -Bob Weiss

Though Bob Weiss “retired” from Disney in 2023 (he announced long before Bob Iger shared he was coming back as CEO) he immediately took a new job as a leader at a global architecture and design firm making it pretty clear that he wasn’t just ready for retirement and instead was just done with Disney’s decisions around Imagineering.

Canceling this move to Florida should be a way to boost the morale of many creative minds in this important area of Disney and not lose further Imagineers with years of experience. You cannot easily replace experience and Disney is seemingly coming around to this. Disney CEO Bob Iger reportedly never liked the idea of moving the Imagineers to Florida and I am glad to see he was able to wield his influence to block it once and for all.

Retaining the experienced members of the creative backbone of Disney Parks is a win for all theme park visitors, even those that call Walt Disney World their home resort. This is a beneficial decision for Disney Parks and the passionate artisans that have taken Imagineering as their profession. While it could have been beneficial for the Walt Disney World Resort to have Imagineering headquartered in their backyard, this move is far better to maintain the quality of Imagineering talent.

The winners here? The people that work at Disney Imagineering who now get to remain in the Los Angeles area and Disneyland guests who will benefit from the proximity of the design group to the park.

So while it might seem tempting to argue this move is solely motivated by the ongoing legal battle with Florida Governor DeSantis, that is likely just the straw that broke the camel’s back. Iger gets to directly support his creative people while also hitting back against their claimed Florida retaliation.

You can read the full memo from Disney Parks Chairman Josh D’Amaro to cast members below:

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About Lindsay Brookshier

Lindsay is a college English instructor and has years of writing experience through various nonprofits, charities, newspapers, and online magazines. As the content director of Mickey Visit, she oversees article content and leads our fantastic team of writers to meet guest vacation needs. You can still find her writing weekly content to help make your Disney Parks trip fantastic here on Mickey Visit and Disney Dose- you can also view her recently featured posts on Disney Parks travel on Visit Anaheim, Nerd Wallet and SFGate. Lindsay comes from a dedicated Disney family and enjoys taking her son to the Disney parks as often as possible.

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