With a dramatic change in leadership at The Walt Disney Company, many people are asking a lot of questions about the future. But one important question hangs in the balance – with Capek gone, will Imagineering move from California to Lake Nona, Florida?
Lake Nona Project
In January 2021, we reported that The Walt Disney Company was about to move some divisions to Florida. Disney has confirmed our reports of moving approximately 2,000 jobs from California to the Nona Lake campus near Orlando. The Lake Nona campus was to house employees of Walt Disney Imagineers and other professionals from the Disney Parks, Experiences and Products division who are not fully dedicated to Disneyland. The 2,000 jobs represent less than 5% of the total Disney jobs in California.
Some Imagineers will remain in California and continue to operate at 1401 Flower Street. However, most will be asked to move or plan to look for a new job. At the time, the department was still coping with the fallout from the 411 Imagineers’ layoffs in late fall 2020.
In September 2021, Disney purchased 60 acres of land on Lake Nona with the intention of building the campus shown in the concept art above. The land was worth $46 million. At that time, it was assumed that construction would be completed in November 2022.
The project is expected to total more than $864 million, of which $624 million will go towards equipment and furniture for the new campus, which is estimated to be between 300,000 and 400,000 square feet. They were also to build an age-restricted community in Sunbridge to help alleviate local fears of a housing shortage.
By October, the Imagineers were already working with local real estate agents to find lodging on Lake Nona. Those expected to move were given 90 days to make a decision. In December, automatic HR emails began to be sent to those who did not respond. The emails stated: “Since no response was received by the December 8, 2021 90-day deadline, we assume that you have decided not to agree to move to Florida. We know this has been a difficult decision and we encourage you to continue discussions with your manager about the next steps.”
Disney vs. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis
It was assumed that by 2022 the plans would be implemented. Doubts began to surface in March when Disney found himself in conflict with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis over the Parental Rights in Education (or Don’t Say Gay) bill. Chapek initially came under fire after it was revealed that Disney had donated to all sponsors of the Don’t Say Gay bill. The company issued a lackluster statement, and Chapek later emailed all Disney employees about the bill, but did not denounce it. The staff and cast spoke out, and representatives from Disney Media Entertainment and Distribution released a statement before Chapek finally pledged to oppose the bill at a shareholder meeting.
DeSantis retaliated in several ways and claimed to have warned Disney that the involvement “won’t end well for them”. The biggest impact was the bill to dissolve the Reedy Creek Improvement District, which allows Disney to run Walt Disney World as its own small government. The dissolution is to take place in June 2023.
In response to the conflict, California Gov. Gavin Newsom said, “Disney, the door is open to bring these jobs back to California – a state that truly represents the values of your workers.” This issue has also prompted the Imagineers to make a concerted effort to reverse the forced relocation in Lake Nona, Florida. They demanded a series of measures to protect their LGBTQ+ employees, two of which are “an end to any effort to move employees to offices in Florida, ensure employee safety and maintain employment” and “ensure that no employee will be fired for denial of service.” transfer to Florida.
Eventually, in June 2022, Disney announced that the move to Lake Nona was being delayed until 2026. By this point, some employees had already sold their homes in California or bought new homes in Florida. This has resulted in several people canceling sales contracts in Florida. One real estate broker had sales canceled by nine people worth about $5 million, “well over six figures in commissions.”
What happens next?
The future of Lake Nona resettlement is unclear. Given that Bob Iger only returned three days later, he may not have made up his mind yet. Although, given his habit of worrying about the company during the Čapek regime, we believe that he has his own opinion on this matter. Iger is definitely more of an “LA guy” and would probably like to keep his creative hemisphere on the west coast, but we don’t know anything for sure.
Given that no work has been done on the campus other than preparing the ground and relocating the reservoir, this is definitely not going to happen any time soon. Another of Iger’s main concerns was dealing with creatives, including Imagineering, from whom he reportedly called during his retirement.
The combination of circumstances led to the systematic destruction of the morale of the department. As the move became apparent as a cost-cutting measure – Čapek’s specialty – the Imagineers expressed a sense of invaluability and warned newcomers not to trust upper management.
Will Aiger’s return be comforting? There is hope for the Imagineers we spoke to after the announcement.
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