Central Florida Roundup
The interchange between I-4 and Orlando's East-West Expressway — the most consistently congested spot in central Florida — will be expanded with third- and fourth-level flyovers.
The region's infamous "Fairbanks Curve" — a dangerous segment built to 1960s standards just north of downtown where I-4 bends to the west before continuing north — will be re-engineered.
Around Universal, where attendance has skyrocketed since the addition of Harry Potter, the work will reconfigure an existing interchange, build another limited interchange nearby and construct a $3-million pedestrian bridge linking some area hotels with the theme park resort's property.
21 miles of highway will be overhauled over nearly seven years.
The first segment of I-4 in central Florida opened in 1965. The 8.2-mile stretch of highway cost $42.2 million and turned a 40-minute drive from the suburbs to downtown into a 10-minute commute.
Fifty years later, I-4 is being rebuilt. The Florida Department of Transportation and a private consortium of contractors this year broke ground on a project they have dubbed "I-4 Ultimate" - a $2.3-billion bid to alleviate chronic congestion on the highway that today is the backbone of central Florida's transportation network.
Plans call for a complete overhaul of a 21-mile segment of the highway, extending from Universal Orlando south of downtown to north of Altamonte Springs in Seminole County. Crews will reconstruct 15 interchanges and widen, replace and add 140 bridges.
One of the major elements of the I-4 Ultimate project is the addition of four tolled "express" lanes (two in each direction). FDOT hasn't set a toll schedule for the lanes, though its current guidelines require a minimum of 50 cents per segment, with seven segments planned in each direction. The lanes will use "variable rate pricing," with toll rates increasing during heavier traffic. FDOT says it aims to maintain a driving speed of 50 mph.
To build the project, FDOT contracted the job out to a 50/50 joint-venture between a pair of international transportation-construction giants: Skanska Infrastructure Development and John Laing Investments. The joint-venture, known as "I-4 Mobility Partners," will build and operate the highway for 40 years. FDOT says the arrangement allowed it to accelerate a project that would otherwise have taken the agency 27 years to complete if it had to wait to fund it as money became available.
Construction is expected to take nearly seven years, and traffic on I-4 is likely to become even more nightmarish in the interim. Local leaders hope the squeeze helps convince more commuters to ditch their cars and start riding the year-old SunRail train system.
Launched in 2008 from founder Scott Sims' garage, Tailgate Sports Games of Orlando, which operates as Victory Tailgate, makes custom corn hole sets — the outdoor bean-bag toss games. The company, which has licenses with the National Basketball Association, Major League Soccer and various universities, fraternal organizations and brands, says it generated $14.2 million in sales last year, more than double its sales in 2013 and nearly triple from 2012. The company has more than 250 employees and expects to add 100 more in Orlando as it expands and launches new product lines.
Darden Restaurants named Todd Burrowes president of LongHorn Steakhouse, replacing Valerie Insignares, who resigned. Burrowes spent a decade as an executive for LongHorn before leaving to become chief operations officer of Ruby Tuesday Inc. ^
Orlando-based Smokey Bones Bar & Fire Grill appointed Ryan Esko chairman, president and CEO, replacing Christopher Artinian, who resigned. Esko had been principal for performance improvement at Sun Capital Partners, the private equity firm that owns Smokey Bones, a former Darden brand.
ALTAMONTE SPRINGS - Tijuana Flats Holdings, the parent company of the Tijauna Flats chain, announced that New York-based AUA Private Equity Partners has taken an undisclosed stake in the company.
Lake Mary Cheesecake, which makes New York-style cheesecake for restaurants, theme parks, hotels and cruise ships, says it is exploring a new "mini IPO" in hopes of raising money to build a factory for gluten-free cheesescakes.
COCOA BEACH - Westgate Resorts completed a multimillion- dollar renovation of the city's 800-footlong pier. Westgate, the timeshare company owned by David Siegel, bought the 53-year-old pier last year.
DELAND - Frontier Communications will invest $2.5 million to expand and will add about 400 jobs.
HOLLY HILL - The owner of Daytona Beach-based Synergy Billing has proposed renovating a former middle school into a Google-like office park to include a new headquarters for his medical billing services company, along with other facilities.
ORLANDO - Choice Hotels will build a 140-room Cambria Hotel & Suites targeting business travelers using the Orange County Convention Center. > All Aboard Florida chose Archer Western to build the rail infrastructure at Orlando International Airport that will serve its planned passenger service between Orlando and Miami.
Twice-weekly charter flights began between Orlando International and Cuba. Meanwhile, WestJet Airlines h a s begun seasonal nonstop flights to Vancouver, Canada. > The first funded spinoff company to emerge from Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute's Lake Nona campus won a $200,000 grant from Space Florida. The company, micro-gRx, which adapts lifesciences disease-modeling technologies for use in space, will use the grant to develop a fully automated, miniaturized cell-culturing lab that will allow scientists to study live human cells in microgravity. Professional services firm BDO USA expanded into central Florida by acquiring Orlando-based Cross, Fernandez & Riley LLP.
The Florida League of Cities opened a new training center downtown for municipal leaders around the state. > The United States Tennis Association signed a short-term lease for office space near Orlando International Airport to serve as a temporary home while its $60-million training center is built at Lake Nona.
OSCEOLA COUNTY - A partnership between the county and the University of Central Florida lost out to Rochester, N.Y., in a bid for a $110-million federal grant that boosters had hoped would help fund an advanced manufacturing center in Kissimmee.
PORT CANAVERAL - The Norwegian Epic, the largest ship in Norwegian Cruise Line's fleet, will be based at Port Canaveral beginning in November 2016.
SUMTER COUNTY - Job-training and placement agency CareerSource Central Florida began dedicated service in the county with a "mobile career center." > Duke Energy completed a site-readiness evaluation of the 3,345- acre Monarch Ranch between I-75 and Florida's Turnpike, recommending target industries for the property such as food processing, logistics/distribution and plastics.
TITUSVILLE - Florida East Coast Industries subsidiary Flagler Global Logistics broke ground on a 320-acre logistics center that will be the first multimodal inland port facility serving Port Canaveral. The first tenant will be the Canaveral Port Authority itself, which will lease a 246,000-sq.-ft. warehouse.