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Businesses leave nothing to chance

In the summer of 2012, an advocacy group called Orange Now gathered enough signatures to force a local referendum on whether businesses in Orange County should be required to provide paid sick time to their workers. The county commission decided to delay the referendum, however, after a strong push from the business community, including Walt Disney World and Darden Restaurants.

Opponents of the measure then helped persuade the Republicanled Florida Legislature to pass a law in 2013 that prohibited local governments from mandating paid sick leave.

Orange County voters subsequently approved the sick-time referendum in August 2014. But the vote was rendered toothless by the Legislature's action, which one sick-time opponent called "the kill shot."

Now, sick-time opponents have put one more bullet in that body, with an amendment to the Orange County charter prohibiting citizen-led charter amendments dealing with "the regulation of employer wages, benefits or hours of work" — from mandatory sick time to a living wage. In November, the same Orange County electorate that voted for the original sick-time measure approved the new measure.

The new amendment was placed on the ballot by Orange County's Republican-majority county commission, without support from Democratic members. It was endorsed by Orlando's chamber of commerce and received advertising support from the county Republican Party.

"I honestly think that allowing individuals to go to the polls to instruct private employers how they're going to operate their business and how much they're going to pay people and what job circumstances they're going to have is a kind of socialism," says Lew Oliver, chairman of the Orange County GOP.

Voters also approved an amendment, put on the ballot by the county commission, meant to make petition drives harder to complete. All signatures must be turned in 150 days before an election instead of 45.

Stephanie Porta, who led the original sick-time campaign, warns that "these fights are far from over."

DAYTONA BEACH — Florida Hospital signed as a major sponsor of International Speedway's "Daytona Rising" project at the Daytona International Speedway and the company's adjacent "One Daytona" mixed-use commercial development. One of the five new entrances to the speedway will be named the "Florida Hospital gate," and Florida hospital will provide medical personnel and equipment for events at the track.

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Walt Disney World opened the first of two parking garages at its Downtown Disney retail complex. > The target date for completion of a $125-million renovation of the Walt Disney World Swan and Dolphin Hotel was pushed Back to 2017.

LAKE MARY — Accesso Technology Group signed a deal with Merlin Entertainments to test Accesso's online and e-commerce tools at four Merlin-owned attractions in Orlando. > Mitsubishi Hitachi Power Systems Americas plans to consolidate its U.S. headquarters here, adding 100 jobs over the next five years.

MELBOURNE — Nemour's Childrens Hospital opened a pediatric urgent care center, the sixth in its central Florida system.

ORANGE COUNTY — A judge dismissed charges against former state Rep. Chris Dorworth. Dorworth, now a lobbyist, was accused of violating the state's open-meeting laws by acting as a conduit among board members Of central Florida's main expressway authority. But Orange County Judge Tanya Davis Wilson ruled the misdemeanor charge violated Dorworth's First Amendment right to communicate with public officials. > Virgin America dropped Sea- World Orlando from its frequent-fier program. County tourist tax collections rose nearly 8% to $201 million for its most recent fscal year.

ORLANDO — NASCAR and AMP Group USA plan to open a half-milelong, indoor kart-racing track near Orlando's International Drive tourist district. > The city planning board approved a conceptual plan submitted by Tribune Media to redevelop the site of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper into a mixed-use development with residential, Retail, office and hotel space. Tribune spun off its newspapers last year. Orlando-based ZOM Development bought 30 lakefront acres in the Baldwin Park neighborhood for a $100-million, 438-unit apartment project. > Orlandobased Engineering & Computer Simulations won a five-year, $29-million military contract for medical training and simulation. > Universal Parks & Resorts, the Orlando-based theme park unit of NBC Universal, announced plans for a $3.3-billion theme park in Beijing. The University Club is selling its downtown building to a developer planning to build a residential tower. > Orlando-based Parkway Properties sold 19 office buildings around the country for $237 million. Orlando-based Old Florida Bancshares was bought by IberiaBank of Louisiana in a stock deal valued at $259 million. A group of investors planning to build apartments bought 19.3 acres of former naval base property for $7.5 million. Pizzuti Co. Began construction of a ninestory apartment complex dubbed "The Sevens." The project, on the northern edge of downtown, will have 333 units. Crews broke ground on the 92,000-sq.-ft. GuideWell Innovation Center, an incubator for health and life-science commercialization, at the Medical City campus in the Lake Nona area. The project has received about $2.5 million from the state. The building is scheduled to open in late 2015.

OSCEOLA COUNTY — The University of Central Florida's School of Medicine received $1 million for a long-term study of the health impacts of interactions between residents, nature and animals in the Osceola town of Harmony.

OVIEDO — Rock & Brews, a restaurant chain associated with Kiss members Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, opened a location near Oviedo Marketplace.

WINTER PARK — The Best Western Mount Vernon Inn closed after being sold to a developer who plans to tear it down to build a retail project. The hotel was the site of the Red Fox Lounge, famous for a long-running lounge act featuring husband-and-wife duo Lorna Lambey and the late Mark Wayne. > Full Sail University laid off 50 employees.


Stephanie Naegele was appointed vice president of convention sales operations for Visit Orlando, central Florida's largest publicly subsidized tourism-marketing agency. Naegele was previously with hotelier Marriott International.

Thomas Sittema was elected chairman of the board of directors for the Metro Orlando Economic Development Commission. Sittema is CEO of Orlando-based CNL Financial Group.


Dr. Phillips Center

After more than two decades of discussion, planning and buildling, city and county leaders opened a $514-million performing arts center in downtown Orlando. The Dr. Phillips Center includes a 2,700-seat main theater and a 300-seat side theater. An acoustic theater will be added in a second phase. The center is part of a $1-billion trio of projects built by Orange County and Orlando and funded primarily by county hotel taxes. Other projects include a renovated Florida Citrus Bowl stadium, which also opened in November, and the Amway Center arena, which opened in 2010.