Back in the summer of 2021, Disney announced that they had purchased a large amount of land in Central Florida and would be building a new campus. The company also announced that they would be moving many of their Imagineers to the campus — which would be called Lake Nona. Lane Nona was set to become the main location for Walt Disney Imagineering. Then the Florida House of Representatives and the State Senate passed the Parental Rights in Education Bill. Dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill, Disney’s stance on the bill has thrown the company into chaos.
Thousands of Disney Cast Members, including Imagineers, are furious with Disney for not speaking up sooner. They are happy that Disney has paused political donations to Florida politicians, but then want them to take things a step further. According to The Wrap, Imagineers are demanding that Disney stop moving them to Lake Nona. The decision was already unpopular from the time it was first announced, and it has become even more unpopular in the last few weeks.
The requirement to move, retire or quit has decimated the ranks of Disney’s storied creatives. Several told TheWrap that the Imagineers team — which they said numbered as many as 1,800 before the pandemic — has been reduced by more than half since last fall as a result of the relocation decision.
A Disney spokesperson told TheWrap: ”We understand relocating is always a big decision and deeply personal one and we have been committed to approaching this project and all who are impacted with the utmost care and compassion.”
The move to Florida had been roiling the Imagineering division since it was first announced and edicts were handed down from corporate offices in September. Imagineers and other members of the Disney Parks Experiences and Products (DPEP) umbrella — which includes publishing, consumer products, Shop Disney and games — were given just 90 days to decide whether they’d move to Florida.
Imagineers could refuse the transfer and lose their job at some time in the future, with severance; quit; or agree to move to Florida. More than one Imagineer told TheWrap that many people agreed to stay without any actual intention of moving. Luminaries like Joe Rohde and Jim Shull opted for retirement, and younger Imagineers like Kevin Lively chose to leave when given the 90-day ultimatum, according to Imagineers interviewed by TheWrap.
“I feel like the move of California staff to Florida is a mistake. Not only because of attrition — we are losing tons of talent,” said a leading Imagineer who is gay and declined to be identified, noting that much of the talent being lost is diverse, minority and female, three groups historically underrepresented within Imagineering. “But it’s also interconnected to the culture of Florida.”
“I would love for Bob (Chapek) to see that this is a chance to come out and reverse something. This is his decision,” this Imagineer continued. “But it’s one where he would get a lot of credit for backtracking on a business decision and to say to Florida, ‘You can’t behave in one direction and expect to reap the benefits of the value we bring to the state.’ That’s what they deserve.”
While Disney has said that a lot of Imagineers would remain in California, one Walt Disney Imagineer said that that would almost be impossible. The move to Lake Nona is a move of Disney Imagineering headquarters, which means that most of the Imagineers cannot remain in The Golden State. When asked, Disney would not say how many Imagineers have quit or retired because of the Lake Nona move. California Governor Gavin Newsom has invited Disney to keep its employees in California due to the state’s support of the LGBTQ+ community.
At this time, Disney has not indicated that they have plans to stop the move to Lake Nona. However, a Disney spokesperson said that Disney is always considering all of its options. Florida has also not passed the Parental Rights in Education bill, but Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has indicated that he will sign the legislation into law.