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Succession: The search is on for UCF's next president

After a quarter-century on the job, University of Central Florida President John Hitt revealed in October that he will retire at the end of the 2017-18 school year.

Presiding over the search for Hitt’s successor is Marcos Marchena, an Orlando attorney who chairs UCF’s board of trustees.

One question the school will confront is whether to pick a president from academia, as the University of Florida did, or someone from politics, a la Florida State’s John Thrasher. Marchena says academic experience will be crucial. (One politician who had been interested in the job, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, decided not to apply.)

“We need someone, I believe, that has, in addition to many other qualities, experience in academia,” Marchena says.

Hitt has said that his decision to retire was motivated, in part, by the risk that UCF might lose Provost Dale Whittaker, who has become Hitt’s top deputy since coming to UCF from Purdue University in 2014. Whittaker was a finalist for the presidency at Iowa State University earlier this year before withdrawing his name from consideration.

The school’s next president will not need experience as a university president, Marchena says. “I think you’re going to see a decent number of candidates that either have presidential experience or provost-level experience.” He also says UCF intends to make its decision without guidance from Hitt. “He’s not supposed to throw his weight behind his candidate. John clearly understands that,”

Marchena says. “Our expectation is that we will not seek John’s counsel on this one issue.” Marchena says UCF hopes to have between three and five finalists by early February — and a selection by mid- to late-March. “Whoever comes in is going to need to understand that she or he is standing on the shoulders of a giant,” Marchena says.

$2-Million Roller Coaster
Skyline Attractions, an Orlando-based manufacturer of amusement park rides, recently sold its first Skywarp — a new ride concept that offers the speed and loops of a big roller coaster at a fraction of the price and in a much smaller footprint. The ride vehicle, which carries 32 passengers, begins by rocking back and forth to build up speed before moving through a series of forward and reverse rotation loops. With a footprint of 120 feet by 30 feet and a height of 62 feet, Skyline says its ride, which costs slightly more than $2 million, can be placed in nearly any location — including in many indoor parks. The first buyer is Six Flags, which will add the ride to its Discovery Kingdom park in California this year.


Business Briefs

CAPE CANAVERAL — Space Florida approved a $750,000 loan to Denver-based York Systems, a startup satellite manufacturer.

CENTRAL FLORIDA — The Orange-Osceola county court system closed its business-court division in order to assign judges to the busier family court division.

LAKE BUENA VISTA — Walt Disney Co. Says Hurricane Irma, which forced it to close Walt Disney World for two days, cancel three cruise voyages and shorten two others, cost it $100 million in revenue. Disney World began allowing dogs at four of its hotels.

LAKE COUNTY — County leaders endorsed a plan to add a fourth interchange to the underconstruction, $1.6-billion Wekiva Parkway toll road, despite opposition from environmentalists.

The county became the latest local jurisdiction to ban medical marijuana dispensaries.

MELBOURNE — Enhanced Resource Centers plans to open a contact center in Melbourne, with plans to hire 400.

ORANGE COUNTY — County leaders agreed to spend another $1 million — on top of $1 million already pledged — to subsidize the 2018 NFL Pro Bowl. They also committed $5 million to try to lure more sports-tourism events.

Valencia College settled a lawsuit over controversial in-class vaginal-probe ultrasound training programs.

ORLANDO — Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, who once considered pursuing the presidency of UCF, announced that he will run for a fifth mayoral term in 2019.

Universal Orlando announced plans for two new hotels on the site of the former Wet ‘n Wild water park.

Fattmerchant, a fast-growing payment technology provider, received $5.5 million in venture capital from Fulcrum Equity Partners of Atlanta. Attendance continued to slide at SeaWorld Entertainment parks, dropping 8. 8% in the third quarter.

Developer Lincoln Property broke ground on a 28-story, downtown retail and office tower dubbed Church Street Plaza. The state of Florida closed on the purchase of an office building to provide rentfree space for the U.S. military’s simulation and training cluster near the University of Central Florida. The Florida Department of Transportation, the University of Central Florida and MetroPlan Orlando won a nearly $12-million federal grant to test smart transportation systems designed to ease congestion and improve pedestrian safety.

Construction began on a new headquarters for BBA Aviation/Signature Flight Support in Tavistock Group’s Lake Nona development.

OSCEOLA COUNTY — The Mormon Church’s Farmland Reserve paid Harmony Florida Land $9.9 million for 4,200 acres in Osceola adjacent to the church’s Deseret Ranch property.

Del Webb will develop a 700-acre, gated neighborhood as part of Tavistock Group’s Sunbridge Project, a 24,000-acre community being built on some of the Mormon Church’s land in east-central Florida. The Del Webb Sunbridge community could have more than 1,350 homes. Mattamy Homes will build 329 homes between Florida’s Turnpike and Lake Tohopekaliga as the first phase of a 730-acre development dubbed Tohoqua.

PORT CANAVERAL — Royal Caribbean International will move its Harmony of the Seas, one of the largest cruise ships in the world, from Port Everglades to Port Canaveral in May 2019.

Port Canaveral named Dave German director of cruise business development, a new position. German will work with cruise lines developing new business lines and itineraries. He was previously the port’s senior harbormaster.

The Orlando Economic Partnership hired consultant Jim Hartmann to lead its Alliance for Regional Transportation initiative. Hartmann, a former Seminole County manager, was previously the county manager in Wake County, N.C.


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