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Orange boosts budget to link UCF, airport

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Orange County is accelerating plans to build a road linking the University of Central Florida to Orlando International Airport, a project vital to Mayor Rich Crotty's vision of a high-tech corridor in east Orange.

Commissioners on Tuesday stuffed an extra $2.6 million into this year's budget for the first segment of the road, which would extend Avalon Park Boulevard south from Alafaya Trail near UCF to the Bee Line Expressway (State Road 528).

Construction of the $14 million extension, which was originally expected to begin late this year, could now start by May, county planners say. The county also is closing in on a deal with the Orlando-Orange County Expressway Authority to build a Bee Line interchange with the new road, which could cost as much as $20 million.

The road is a top priority for Crotty, who said it is key to recruiting more high-paying jobs to balance out the county's tourism-heavy economy. Since making it a centerpiece of his State of the County address last year, negotiations with developers to design and contribute land for the road have advanced considerably, Crotty and other county officials said.

"We have highlighted the importance of that part of the county relative to the creation of high-value jobs," Crotty said. "Timing now seems to be right."

Stung by losing high-profile bids to lure the Scripps Research Institute and a NASA business-services center, Crotty said the road could help make the county more attractive to companies looking to relocate, although some wary environmentalists worry the road may spawn more residential sprawl.

Backers say the road would connect two of the region's biggest economic engines, the university and the airport. An expressway interchange would also open up easy access to commercial hubs on the coast such as Kennedy Space Center and Port Canaveral.

The Central Florida Research Park has already announced plans to expand into the area as well.

The $2.6 million that commissioners added for the road Tuesday, part of an annual round of budget adjustments made each January, more than doubles the amount the county originally planned to spend this year. Much of the new cash for the road wasn't on the books to be spent until 2007.

The extra money will come from a combination of the county's reserve fund and other road projects that have stalled, officials said. It will take about two years to build.

Plans for the second leg, which would extend Avalon south from the Bee Line and west to the airport, are much more preliminary. County officials have pegged that cost at roughly $30 million.

Meanwhile, Expressway Authority Chairman Allan Keen said a deal with the county and developers for the new interchange is close and could happen within a month. If they do reach an agreement, Keen said, the Expressway Authority could begin construction by the middle of next year and have the interchange open by 2007.

"We could get started fairly quickly," Keen said.

There are still plenty of potential snags. The principal developer involved in the project has submitted controversial plans that include building roughly 3,400 homes in the area, in addition to industrial, commercial and office space.

Orange County approved the 2,400-acre International Corporate Park solely as an industrial park nearly 20 years ago, but the project never took off. The property's new developers say they need the homes -- everything from upscale executive housing to apartments for new college graduates -- if they are to convert the project into a high-tech magnet.

"To change it to something else, we've got to give them something special," said Sam Evans, ICP's project manager, adding that the county's support for the revised proposal could affect negotiations for the Avalon extension.

Commissioner Linda Stewart, who represents the area, wants to postpone any land-use changes for ICP -- or any other developer in the area -- until the county completes an exhaustive study of the region's environmental concerns.

Environmentalists fear the Avalon extension will travel too near the sensitive Econlockhatchee River, slice across wetlands and spark development that carves up habitat for everything from wood storks to black bears.

Orange County plans to hire a consult ant to conduct the study, which also will examine the region's transportation needs and economic development potential, next month. It will take up to six months to complete and could cost more than $300,000.

"It's premature to discuss anything until we complete . . . a blueprint for that whole area," Stewart said. "This study is just imperative."

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That's exactly what I thought when I read the paper this morning. This two government system is so dysfunctional. The cities should be encouraging growth and the county SHOULD be discouraging growth in the unicorporated areas. Portland, Oregon has a mandatory "green" zone around the city that the county enforces. It would make mass and individual transportation much simpler and less expensive, and would help protect our environment.

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Unfortunately, Crotty is only interested in competiting with Orlando, instead of working with the city to create a stronger and better metropolitan area. This situation is very similar to that of Norfolk and Virgina Beach, in the way that, VaBeach (the suburb) refuses to except its secondary role and does everything to one-up the actual core city (Norfolk). Maybe Orlando should go ahead and annex I-Drive.

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Although I think the idea of consolidation sounds appealing, I wonder if Orlando might get overwhelmed by the suburbs. Right now, at least the mayor is focused on downtown. If Orlando's population suddenly included a great deal more people who lived in the suburbs, how willing would they be to support politicians who wanted to create a strong urban environment? If we did have a consolidated government, I fear that its leadership would be more similar to the County leadership than the city leadership. In a few years, there are going several thousand more people living downtown (I think the figure is like 10-15,000) who are going to be relatively wealthy, who have demonstrated an interest in living in an urban environment, and most will have made a significant investment (the purchase of their home) in the community. For those of us interested in urbanism, our best bet might be to sit tight, do everything we can to make sure the current projects succeed, and then see what we can do in a few years when there are over a dozen recently built successful projects and thousands of new residents living downtown.

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Although I think the idea of consolidation sounds appealing, I wonder if Orlando might get overwhelmed by the suburbs.  Right now, at least the mayor is focused on downtown.  If Orlando's population suddenly included a great deal more people who lived in the suburbs, how willing would they be to support politicians who wanted to create a strong urban environment?  If we did have a consolidated government, I fear that its leadership would be more similar to the County leadership than the city leadership.  In a few years, there are going several thousand more people living downtown (I think the figure is like 10-15,000) who are going to be relatively wealthy, who have demonstrated an interest in living in an urban environment, and most will have made a significant investment (the purchase of their home) in the community.  For those of us interested in urbanism, our best bet might be to sit tight, do everything we can to make sure the current projects succeed, and then see what we can do in a few years when there are over a dozen recently built successful projects and thousands of new residents living downtown.

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Consolidation has worked in Indianapolis and Jacksonville. Its clearly benefited Indianapolis, which now has the Midwest's most vibrant pedestrian friendly downtown, outside of Chicago. Because of consolidation, the city's business environment has also continued to grow fairly rapidly, despite being located in the "rustbelt".

Over the past couple of years, Jacksonville has been able to add 2 Fortune 500 companies, renovate Alltel Stadium, build a new library, arena, baseball stadium, lay the ground work for an entertainment district and expand the Northbank riverwalk, in downtown. After the super bowl leaves, the city will be building a new 900,000sf courthouse complex and relocating city offices, to sell the valuable riverfront land they currently sit on. The quick completion of all of these projects is due to the city, being able spread the expensive cost of these large public developments equally among nearly 800,000 citizens (600,000 of which would reside in the suburbs if the city were not consolidate).

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Aggreed that we should do whatever we can to support the current downtown projects; even if it's just an occasional dinner and a movie downtown. Though the city limits cover quite a lot of area, Dyer has kept his focus on growning the Downtown core, while maintaining services elsewhere. There is nothing to suggest that Dyer would treat outer-Orange differently than outer-Orlando.

Dyer can and has incentivized development that doesn't promote spawl. While on the other hand, Crotty which only owns outer-Orange doesn't have that option. Any effort to bring in growth by the county only increases sprawl. It's the existance of a gowth-oriented government entity that "only" controls the outskirts that creates the problem. IMO, if there were a single government, then there could be anti-spawl options to growth that Crotty doesn't have.

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Consolidation has worked in Indianapolis and Jacksonville.  Its clearly benefited Indianapolis, which now has the Midwest's most vibrant pedestrian friendly downtown, outside of Chicago.  Because of consolidation, the city's business environment has also continued to grow fairly rapidly, despite being located in the "rustbelt". 

Over the past couple of years, Jacksonville has been able to add 2 Fortune 500 companies, renovate Alltel Stadium, build a new library, arena, baseball stadium, lay the ground work for an entertainment district and expand the Northbank riverwalk, in downtown.  After the super bowl leaves, the city will be building a new 900,000sf courthouse complex and relocating city offices, to sell the valuable riverfront land they currently sit on.  The quick completion of all of these projects is due to the city, being able spread the expensive cost of these large public developments equally among nearly 800,000 citizens (600,000 of which would reside in the suburbs if the city were not consolidate).

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Those are very good points and examples, but I'm still concerned about Orlando being overwhelmed by the voters out in the suburbs. Everything I've heard recently about Jacksonville has been great, but is there any concern that the 600,000 voters out in the suburbs will either demand more resources be directed their way or that spending on urban projects be cut back? Again, I'm not familiar enough with Jacksonville to not if there is any risk of that but I do know Orange County and I think the risk would certainly exist. I would love the additional resources that could be devoted to projects downtown if the costs could be spread across everyone in Orange County, but I'm affraid many people in Orange County would not support it. I grew up in the suburbs and it's amazing how many people never or almost never go downtown (and unsurprisingly don't care about downtown). Also, in Orange County there is the "Ax the Tax" clown and other groups that will do all they can to drum up support against anything that involves spending money on development (whether it be schools or anything else).

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My $0.02:

It's hard to believe we are talking about a roadway that doesn't need to be, when we have so many other cooridors in the County that need improvements now, rather than pie-in-the-sky thinking that they will be able to attract a "high-tech" corridor to connect UCF to the Airport. Can anyone travel on Narcossee in unincoporated orange county, or even Good Homes, or other corridors that need the improvements now - How about building an East-West corridor to take traffic off of the death-trap they call Colonial without directing people to the Expressway Authority.

Wake-up, high-tech workers and companies are no longer attracted to outer suburbs; they are more comfortable in regions that are diverse and offer urban amenities that develop a "creative class" (see the book, "Rise of the Creative Class"). After all, high-tech workers are a diverse lot themselves. Alot more could be done by concentrating on incubators in the Downtown area; either for biotech or high-tech companies. Offer them free rent in a City or County sponsored incubator building. Then they can spin-off to other areas if they need large amounts of square footage, or actually invest in the Downtown that brought them up.

This is just a sorry excuse to build a road to support residential development out in the failed business park, since the business park hasn't been successful. All the talk is about changing land-uses to residential without even relying on the business park for actual employees, or the conversation is directed toward the actual building of the road itself - nothing more. How about having the jobs arrive before we start adding housing and more sprawl out there.

And the naivety doesn't stop in Orange County... what counts as high-tech in the City of Orlando is dubious at best. Dyer and the whole City Council got excited over Dynetech, citing it as a "high-tech" company and cashing out all sorts of incentives, when they are truly an "info-mercial" company, marketing real-estate schemes and stock-market buying software. SEE FOR YOURSELF at http://www.dynetech.com/partners/casestudies/. In fact, you'd be hard pressed to see anything but marketing schemes on this companies' website. Worst of all, they cited "an average salary of $55K", which is way too low for average pay in the high-tech sector.

Perhaps Crotty could lure Krispy Kreme HQ's to the new business park, thinking it's a high-tech donut operation. Perhaps our elected leaders should get serious about real high-tech. That's what the governor of Utah did, constantly visiting Silicon Valley to develop the connections to get relocations and build relationships with high-tech and academia. Smarter things have been done in Austin in Silicon Gulch. It appears that what the Orlando region needs is some serious homework done by our local elected officials before they can call this "Silicon Swamp"; and not just visiting the San Diego Scripps Institute to beg for them to locate here.

The only reason that the current UCF business park has tenants are spin-offs of the NASA business out at the Cape and military simulation companies; not by virture of collocation with UCF. Not sure if these markets have met a saturation point in Orlando. If there were companies expressing the need for more space, it would make sense to jump the gun on road construction in this corridor - rather than relying on the developers of residential projects to chime in on what housing is necessary to make a successful high-tech cooridor.

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This turf war between Orlando and Orange County is asinine. Orange should be representing and promoting the entire county, not just the unincorporated area.

Also, when did the county chairman title change to "mayor"?

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I agree that this is idiotic to tout this road extention as a link between UCF and the airport... If anyone has driven all the way out to the Avalon/Alafaya area, it is a pretty distant drive from UCF. The current UCF expressway exit that is already in place (417 and University) is MUCH more convenient to UCF than a Beeline/Alafaya exit would be. This is just simply a plan to increase the land value and development potential around the growing Avalon Park area... just a chance to encourage more sprawl...

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Corporate village envisioned

A proposal raises questions about growth in mushrooming east Orange.

By Joe Newman | Sentinel Staff Writer

Posted March 22, 2005

As east Orange County grapples with an onslaught of new residents, officials soon will decide whether to ratchet that growth pressure even higher.

Already, east Orange must figure out how to accommodate the aggressive expansion of the University of Central Florida and Orlando International Airport and the tens of thousands of jobs and residents they generate.

Now, developers are pushing plans to turn a long-dormant industrial park into a high-tech village, adding thousands of homes, shops and the kind of clean industry county officials covet.

The project at International Corporate Park, which sits on 3,000 acres along the Bee Line Expressway, would fill a gap between the airport to the west and UCF to the north.

But is it too much, too soon?

The debate will play itself out in the next month when the developers of International Corporate Park present their plans to the Orange County Commission and the regional planning council.

From Orange County Mayor Rich Crotty's perspective, the development plan fits well with his goal to create a high-tech corridor stretching from UCF to the airport.

That corridor, Crotty says, is critical to Orange County's economy, which for too long has been dominated by the tourism and service industries.

But remaking International Corporate Park from an industrial park that never took off into a 10,000-resident community where high-tech employees can "work, live and play" faces one significant hurdle: Linda Stewart, the county commissioner who represents the area. Stewart says the plan, which includes 3,440 homes, is "ridiculous."

"It's too premature," Stewart said. "We should not have to be worrying about this now."

Local officials must answer key questions as they map east Orange County's future.

For example, how much longer can the county keep development from the Econlockhatchee River, the line commissioners have long held as their eastern growth boundary?

Even without revamping International Corporate Park, east Orange's population will continue to boom. Metroplan Orlando, the region's transportation planning agency, projects east Orange will add nearly 100,000 residents by 2025.

According to the agency's figures, the corridor along the Central Florida GreeneWay (State Road 417) from Seminole County to OIA will grow from 106,000 residents in 2000 to 206,000 residents by 2025. Add thousands of homes and jobs at International Corporate Park, and that growth could shift into overdrive.

Developers already have carved subdivisions out of wetlands on the west side of the Econ. Landowners on the east side of the river, a mostly rural area with large swaths of forest and wetlands, want to do the same.

Developing the corporate park would increase the pressure to build more homes in east Orange, even if it meant jumping the Econ.

In the coming months, county officials will spend $350,000 to study growth and environmental issues in east Orange. Stewart says the new owners of International Corporate Park should wait until the county completes the study before they ask commissioners for approval.

"Why don't we wait and hear what might be the best recommended development for that corridor instead of doing it backwards?" she asked.

Last week, the county's planning advisory board agreed, recommending 4-1 against moving the project forward. Board members said they first want to see the study, which would look at how the corporate park fits in with growth surrounding UCF and the airport.

UCF, with about 42,000 students, has new buildings and dorms on tap, including a 10-story tower that would combine housing and retail. The university also wants to build a football stadium and is lobbying for a medical school, which could end up at the corporate park.

Airport officials, who saw some of their plans slowed by the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks, envision adding a terminal.

The corporate-park proposal says a fully developed site could create 20,000 jobs. That's just a piece of the 71,000 new jobs that could be coming to the area within 10 miles of the park by 2025 -- maybe as early as 2015.

All those workers would need 36,000 new homes, according to the development proposal. Today, county and city planners have approved only 28,000 homes within 10 miles of International Corporate Park.

While opponents say they fear the development will worsen traffic, the developers and their consultants say the housing component is essential to their success.

They say they want to create a community that will appeal to executives of high-tech companies. Such firms want neighborhoods within easy driving, biking and walking distance between home and work, the proposal says.

Joe Wallace, executive director of Central Florida Research Park, which has signed a deal to expand into the corporate park, says adding homes to the project will help recruit companies that are now going elsewhere.

"When I lose a deal, it's because they went to Lake Mary or Heathrow, where they can live right next door," Wallace said. "Housing is the absolute critical thing for high-tech companies now."

It makes sense to change International Corporate Park from an industrial park into a community that integrates homes and shops with places to work, said Owen Beitsch, a real-estate consultant who developed the park's market analysis for the developers.

Approved in 1986, the park languished because it was seen as too remote, Beitsch said.

"It doesn't seem like that distant a location anymore," he said.

One key to the success of the park and Crotty's high-tech corridor is the extension of Alafaya Trail to the airport. Current plans call for extending the road only to the Bee Line Expressway.

Beitsch, who says it is important for county officials to protect the Econ River, concedes that at some point, development pressure will force commissioners to decide whether to cross the river.

But he said he doesn't think ICP, which has been approved for development since 1986, is the piece that will tip the scales.

"There's some point where that is going to happen," he said. "The next piece may be the one or the next piece after that, but I don't think we're there yet."

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High-tech park waits for study

The developer delays the east Orange project until a growth survey is done.

By Joe Newman | Sentinel Staff Writer

Posted April 6, 2005

The developer of a proposed high-tech village in east Orange County has agreed to delay the project so that county officials can first complete a study of the area, County Mayor Rich Crotty said Tuesday.

The decision avoids a showdown in front of the County Commission, which this month would have voted whether to move the International Corporate Park project forward.

Although Crotty supports the ICP proposal, which would combine a high-tech research park with shops and thousands of homes, Commissioner Linda Stewart has criticized the project.

The 3,000-acre site straddles the Bee Line Expressway and sits between Hal Scott Preserve and the Curtis H. Stanton power plant.

Stewart, who represents the area around the proposed park, says it doesn't make sense to consider the project until the county's study of east Orange growth and environmental issues is finished in about six months.

Crotty met with the developer last week and persuaded him to wait until the study is done.

"It's a little bit of a compromise," Crotty said. "It doesn't do any harm, and it kind of gets everybody on board."

The delay pleased Stewart, who has pushed for the east Orange growth study since last year.

"I just don't think it's a good policy to put the cart before the horse," she said. "We just can't afford to make a mistake -- we are just growing too rapidly."

Joe Newman can be reached at 407-420-6140

or [email protected]

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