Despite its battle with Gov. Ron DeSantis, Disney remains committed to the state of Florida.
The media and theme park juggernaut is set to invest $17 billion in central Florida’s Walt Disney World hub over the next decade, which includes the potential creation of 13,000 jobs.
Those figures have been repeated 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 ratchet up. 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 the new board members of its special district of carrying out a campaign of political retribution against the entertainment giant.
DeSantis targeted 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 classrooms.
“We never wanted, and we certainly never expected, to be in the position of having to defend our business interests in federal court, particularly having such a terrific relationship with the state as 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 up a new employee campus in Lake Nona, Florida, citing “changing business conditions.” This means the company also will no longer be asking more than 2,000 California-based employees to relocate to Florida. That location was not part of Disney’s $17 billion investment plan.
D’Amaro, who runs Disney’s parks, experiences and consumer products division, reiterated Iger’s sentiments earlier this week during the J.P. Morgan Global Technology, Media and Communications Conference. He told audience members that the $17 billion investment “gives you a sense of how aggressive we’re being in Walt Disney World.”
“And this includes things like the transformation of Epcot,” he explained. “It includes things like there’s a new Star Tours attraction coming, we have a new Tiana attraction that’s coming. So, we’re thinking pretty aggressively about where we can take things in Florida.”
Already Epcot opened Remy’s Ratatouille Adventure in the France pavilion in late October and also last year unveiled Guardians of the Galaxy: Cosmic Rewind, a roller coaster in the Wonders of Xandar Pavilion, based on the fictional planet from the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The park also has a new restaurant called Space 220.
Still to come to the park is the “Moana”-themed park area called The Journey of Water, a self-guided outdoor trail where guests can play and interact with water. It’s set to open in late 2023.
At Disney World’s Hollywood Studios, as well as at the California-based Disneyland and Disneyland Paris, the company is set to add more stories and characters to its Star Tours attraction. Additionally, it is updating Splash Mountain at both domestic resorts with a “Princess and the Frog” theme.
The company is also updating 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 presented 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 talked about 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 districts and animal species, or even “Moana.”
At Magic Kingdom, Disney is asking the question: “What is behind Big Thunder Mountain?” The company teased that an area based on “Coco” could be in that location or “Encanto.” Perhaps both.
D’Amaro even hinted at the possibility of bringing to life an area of Magic Kingdom overrun by Disney villains.
Price points will vary for these projects, if they do come to fruition, but for reference, the two Star Wars: Galaxy Edge lands in Disneyland and Disney World are estimated to have cost $1 billion each.
Disney’s theme parks have been a bright spot for the company, as guest visitation has rebounded significantly in the months following the pandemic shutdowns. The parks, experiences and products divisions saw a 17% year-over-year revenue increase to $7.7 billion during the most recent quarter.
Around $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 cruises both domestically and internationally. Its cruise business, in particular, saw an increase in passenger cruise days.
“We see this business as a key growth driver for the company,” Iger said during Disney’s recent earnings call.