Central Florida Roundup
Room to grow: Universal buys back a 475-acre parcel
In September 2013, about two years after Comcast became sole owner of Universal Orlando, Comcast executive and NBCUniversal President Steve Burke laid out an ambitious goal to build central Florida’s No. 2 theme park resort into “a family destination in and of itself — not an add-on attraction for somebody who’s spent three or four days someplace else.”
Universal has been nibbling into Walt Disney World’s market share ever since by investing hundreds of millions of dollars in new attractions, hotels and a water park. But Universal had a long-term problem: It didn’t own enough land. The resort sits on roughly 600 acres and is hemmed in by I-4 and surrounding commercial and residential development. Disney World, by contrast, sprawls across more than 25,000 acres.
Now Universal has room to grow. Comcast recently paid $130 million to acquire 475 acres of undeveloped property near the southern end of Orlando’s International Drive tourist corridor.
Technically, Universal reacquired the land. It was part of an 1,800-acre parcel Universal purchased in 1998 from Lockheed Martin, which had excess land after building a missile-production plant. But Universal, under a different owner at the time, subsequently sold off the land in 2003 to Atlanta developer Stan Thomas, who had plans for a mammoth “urban resort.” Thomas ran into problems during the real estate bust and was forced to take out loans against parts of his property. Lenders eventually foreclosed on the parcel, and it wound up in the hands of real estate investment firm Colony Capital in late 2015.
When Colony began spreading the word that it intended to put the property back on the market, Universal parent company Comcast pounced the $130-million purchase is the largest land-only deal in the history of Orlando’s tourism corridor, says Robert McEwan, a first vice president with CBRE.
Already zoned for attractions, hotels and other tourism uses, the land makes for a nearly ideal canvas for Universal’s creative engineers, although the resort isn’t yet talking about its plans. “Nothing to share,” a spokesman says.
One of Universal’s first steps will be negotiating a deal with Orange County to build a road accessing the property, which is about six miles south — and on the opposite side of I-4 — of Universal’s existing resort. Universal will also have to devise a transportation system linking the two properties.
Innovation Uber Subsidy
In a first of its kind attempt to save money on road building, Altamonte Springs will begin subsidizing the trips of people using the ride-sharing app Uber. The city, a car-dependent suburb north of Orlando, will underwrite 20% of the cost of any Uber trips beginning and ending within its borders. The subsidy will jump to 25% for trips that begin or end at Altamonte Springs’ SunRail station, potentially improving connectivity to local economic engines such as the Altamonte Mall, Florida Hospital Altamonte and Seminole State College. They city says it has budgeted $500,000 for the one-year project, $300,000 of which will come from the city itself. Uber, which has been fighting with other cities over its refusal to comply with traditional taxi regulations, says the partnership is the first of its kind in the country.
Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission President and CEO Rick Weddle stepped down to take a job running the economic development agency in Hampton Roads, Va. Holly Wiedman, the EDC’s executive vice president, was named interim CEO.
Chief Parks Operations Officer Dan Brown and Chief Zoological Officer Brad Andrews left SeaWorld Entertainment, continuing a management exodus that has also included a former CEO and a former CFO.
Bob Lipscomb was named CEO of Orlando-based construction firm Williams Co. Lipscomb has been with Williams since 1988 and had been president.
CASSELBERRY — A joint venture including the city and developers Integra Land and Casto broke ground on a $34-million project dubbed Lake Concord Park. The 20-acre development will include apartments, restaurants and a linear park. The first phase is expected to be done by the spring of 2017.
CELEBRATION — Disney Cruise Line announced orders for two new ships to be delivered in 2021 and 2023. The twin, 135,000-ton ocean liners will expand Disney’s cruise fleet to six ships.
DAYTONA BEACH — Minto Communities says it has begun planning a 3,400-home, 55-plus community near the interchange of I-95 and LPGA Boulevard. The development will also include 215,000 square feet of neighborhood commercial space as well as a private beach club on the Atlantic Ocean.
LAKE BUENA VISTA — Walt Disney World overhauled single-day ticket prices to begin charging more during peak periods. The most expensive base ticket — to the Magic Kingdom — will now cost $124, $110 or $105, depending on the time of year. Disney says it will break ground on new Star Wars Lands at theme parks in Orlando and Anaheim, Calif., in April.
LONGWOOD — Wendover Housing Partners opened a $30-million, 208-unit apartment community called Weston Park next to the city’s SunRail station.
MAITLAND — Developer Battaglia Group Management will build a $77-million office, retail and residential development that would include 350 residential units and 150,000 square feet of commercial space. Epoch Properties broke ground on the 293-unit Maitland Station Apartments next to the city’s SunRail station.
ORLANDO — JetBlue Airways, Southwest Airlines and Delta Air Lines applied to the federal government for rights to begin commercial service between Orlando and Havana. Orlando-based fixed-base operator Signature Flight Support expanded dramatically following a $2.1-billion merger with Landmark Aviation. Signature, which now has 195 locations around the world, is owned by BBA Aviation. Pestcontrol company Massey Services bought Texas-based Ecoshield, expanding the company’s presence in Dallas, Houston and San Antonio. The city council approved plans for a 4,300-home subdivision on land once used as a military bombing range.
ORANGE COUNTY — Nemours Children’s Hospital opened a primary care facility in west Orange County, its 14th. SeaWorld Entertainment admitted to having employees pose as animal-rights activists in order to spy on groups such as PETA. Executives say they have halted the practice. Following the lead of Walt Disney World and Universal Orlando, SeaWorld Orlando is raising its minimum pay to $10 an hour. Timeshare magnate David Siegel’s Westgate Resorts bought the Rodeway Inn Pigeon Forge in Tennessee, with plans to renovate and rebrand the property as a boutique-style hotel called the Wild Bear Inn.
VOLUSIA COUNTY — Commissioners voted unanimously to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana, making Volusia the first government in central Florida to do so. Police will have the option to write tickets to people found with 20 grams or less.
WINTER PARK — Rev Group will move the headquarters of U.S. Ambulance from Winter Park to Milwaukee but says it will maintain its local manufacturing operation, for which it recently received public incentives. The city has begun a $1.2-million renovation of a 101-year-old, city-owned golf course near downtown.