August 22, 2014

Central

John M. Dunn | 4/1/2002
"We spent the last 11¼2 years working out one of the largest demolition and remediation projects in the history of the nation," says David Pace, managing director of Baldwin Park Development Co., owned by the Pritzker family of Chicago.

The source of Pace's pride is a $1-billion construction project in Orlando's downtown area that is converting a decommissioned 1,100-acre naval training center into a huge, mixed-use development. By the start of 2002, Baldwin had demolished 4.5 million square feet of the existing facilities, including 200 miles of underground infrastructure. Plans call for a pedestrian-oriented development comprising 3,000 new residences, 300,000 square feet of commercial space and 1 million square feet of office space.

An estimated 8,000 people will live in the complex, and another 5,000 to 6,000 will work there. Pace says the complex is expected to generate more than $500 million in property taxes over the next 30 years.

The ambitious project, however, is controversial. Many residents in nearby Winter Park fear Baldwin Park may create traffic that could disrupt their community. Others charge that Orlando officials gave away too much when they successfully lobbied the state to remove the project from the state-level review process that's normally required for such large-scale construction efforts. A series in the Orlando Sentinel charged that the Pritzker family got choice Orlando property "for next to nothing, while the city of Orlando lost a chance to use the base for a broader public benefit."

Orlando & Orange County
Key Trend: Tourism is rebounding but won't return to its pre-Sept. 11 glory days quickly. Tourism operators face more problems than just a drop in theme-park attendance. "Orlando's attractions have also incurred extra expenses for security," says Donna Ross, CEO and president of the Florida Attractions Association. In addition, tourists are spending less money than previously, according to an association survey. Says Ross, "Families that used to buy four T-shirts now buy only two." Things remain especially tough for Orlando's lodging market and others who depend on it. Following the Sept. 11 attacks, 14 Orlando area hotel properties were in arrears on loans valued at $170 million, representing 25% of all lodging delinquencies in the nation.

Person to Watch: Last January, Fred Lounsberry, senior vice president of sales for Universal Studios Recreation Group, became the new chairman of the Travel Industry Association of America, a national lobbying group. He also recently took another hot seat as head of Visit Florida, the state's tourist marketing agency. In that position, Lounsberry oversees a $20-million advertising campaign designed to give the industry a boost.

Business to Watch: Last January, Agere Systems Inc. shocked central Florida's business community by announcing it would sell its huge chip manufacturing plant in south Orlando as a cost-saving measure. Employing 1,100, the plant once represented the kind of high-tech industry coveted by EDC officials everywhere. Upon hearing the news, a consortium of government, business and academic interests quickly banded together to help the plant find a new owner. But a global slump in the semiconductor industry could make that task a tough assignment.

Major Challenge: Orlando's transportation leadership faces some tough questions: How and where should they build a light-rail system? What's the best way to create a 55-mile "commuter-rail" system that would use existing CSX tracks running from downtown Orlando to Kissimmee? They also have to figure out how to link any local rail system to the yet-to-be built state high-speed rail system, once state legislators decide the details and the project gets under way. As a $265-million road construction project nears completion and closes a six-mile "missing link" on Orlando's GreeneWay on the east side of town, another gap on the area's expressway system north of Apopka requires attention. But environmentalists and many area residents oppose any efforts to close this breach. "We're considering several studies to see if there are alternative roads that could be built," says Harold Barley, executive director of Metroplan Orlando.

Seminole County
Key Trend: Signs of a slowdown in Seminole, where the economy is less tourist-oriented than in Orlando, are hard to find. In fact, small- to medium-size companies are thriving, say local EDC officials. Back-office activity tends to be strong. Cingular Wireless, for instance, recently relocated its regional operations center to Seminole. ... Surprisingly, air travel is up at the Orlando/Sanford International Airport, which recently opened a new domestic terminal and seven gates. The total number of passengers grew by 21% during 2001, compared to the year before, says airport President Larry Dale. A $6-million reconstruction project under way to rehabilitate an international ramp and taxiways may increase business even more.

Business to Watch: Last summer, Mitsubishi moved its Heavy Industries America headquarters to ColonialTown Park, a 175-acre mixed-use park in Lake Mary. "It's the first time the Japanese have put an international headquarters in Florida," says Tom Green, vice president of Colonial Properties Trust. "The magnetic effect on other Japanese companies is going to be tremendous."

Major Challenge: County officials must decide how to spend $1 million to kick-start the redevelopment of a 17-mile swatch of abandoned buildings and strip developments along the State Road 17-92 corridor. They also have to agree on what properties to buy with $3 million in state funds for land preservation.

Lake County
Key Trend: Wages are going up in Lake County, now averaging $11.62 an hour, from $10.36 two years ago. Fueling that increase is the county's Job Growth Investment Trust Fund. Started in 1995, the fund rewards companies with cash if they create jobs that pay at least the prevailing wage and last at least two years. As of January, the county had paid out $2.5 million to companies in return for 1,000 jobs in distribution, warehousing, back office and manufacturing. Lake County's population is growing too, especially along the "Four Corners" area where Lake, Osceola, Polk and Orange converge. Many of the newcomers here are younger than Lake's dominant group, retirees. This trend may signal a change in what the community expects from the local government, observes Derieth Sutton, director of the Lake County regional office of the EDC of Mid-Florida. For some, a change in attitude can't come fast enough in a county where schools already lag growth.

Person to Watch: Jerry Brown, owner of Florida Food Products, hopes his company's new 70-acre industrial park in Eustis will attract several high-tech, food-products companies. The park's first tenant, U.S. Neutraceuticals, a producer of botanical extracts used in medicines, dietary supplements, teas and coffees, recently moved into its new $7-million facility. The company pays its highly trained specialists good wages too -- up to $50 an hour. Brown's main goal is to provide a place where allied companies -- i.e, those that process, research and package food products -- can be neighbors and "feed off each other."

Business to Watch: Only 2 years old, Clermont's 250-acre health, education and wellness complex is attracting athletes from around the world. Conceived by a local orthopedic surgeon, Dr. Michael Ray, the estimated $100-million complex includes classroom space for Lake/Sumter Community College and the University of Central Florida; the 68-bed South Lake Hospital; the headquarters for the Florida Special Olympics; offices for the USA Triathlon National Training Center; a 70-meter swimming pool; and other sports training facilities. Construction is scheduled to get under way this year on the Brandy Johnson's Gymnastics center, named after the former Olympian who heads the project. Work is also supposed to begin on a Champion Inn that will allow entire teams to live on campus. Because of the complex, "Clermont is exploding with all kinds of growth, much of it medical offices and health-related facilities," says John Moore, administrator of support service for South Lake Hospital.

Major Challenge: Many in Lake County worry that population increases may outstrip economic growth. "Primarily we're rooftop-heavy and not economic development top-heavy," says County Commissioner Jennifer Hill. "We want to avoid becoming a bedroom community for Orlando." But to boost its economic base, Lake may have to decide how to broaden its economic base. One possibility is to develop one existing industrial park and build another.

Osceola County
Key Trend: Osceola's tourism tax revenues for the fiscal year ended last September fell 6.6%. But in October and November, they plummeted, falling by 30%. The shortfall, says county commission auditor Kathy Wall, could make it hard for the county to fund construction of a convention center -- perhaps costing as much as $98 million -- a $65-million agricultural center and an $18.4-million renovation project for a Houston Astros training center.

Business to Watch: The new Gaylord Palms Resort and Convention Center is one lodging facility that isn't hurting for business. The $450-million, 2.1-million-sq.-ft. resort and convention center near Walt Disney World has already sold 1 million rooms through 2012. Why doesn't Gaylord have the lodging industry blues? "Its core business is providing corporate meeting space," explains corporate publicist Suzanne McGovern. "After Sept. 11, people only postponed over the short term. In the long term they still have to get business done."

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