When veteran commercial broker Bobby Palta of CBRE heard the details Thursday morning on what will be available in the City of Orlando's new web-based digital business permitting system, he immediately thought of a few clients it would help.
One is currently mired in permitting for a 1,000-square-foot pizza restaurant in Thornton Park, a process that can sometimes require months of meetings with city staff and revision by applicants, who often work through intermediaries and may only learn of permitting intricacies as they encounter them in the process.
"At first glance, it is a very impressive, well-thought out system. Their comment (Thursday) that many municipalities roll out the red carpet to business owners only to wrap them in red tape later is dead on," said Palta, first vice president of retail brokerage services for CBRE in Orlando. "Several of my other clients can take advantage, and I plan to share this with the entire CBRE office."
The city's new Small Business Digital Permitting Tool went live on Thursday, available at business.cityoforlando.net. It's being promoted as a one-stop website where entrepreneurs seeking to open or expand a business can check zoning, identify permit requirements, estimate costs and fees associated with a project, and learn about potential incentives. It will also ensure applicants get personalized feedback from city staff early in the process.
Developers or business owners pursuing new property in Orlando often rely on a broker for all the answers, and the city's information for new business permit applicants has been provided in a piecemeal manner until now, said Cindy Schooler, director of retail leasing with Cushman & Wakefield.
The new web portal will help commercial realty brokers send clients to one source for the facts about opening a business and land use for specific parcels, and, now that the city will assign a staff member to each new business applicant that registers in the portal, it will streamline followup, she said.
"With about 120 questions that an applicant has to go through in the process, if they stop the system will have their contract information, and a city staff member will try to learn what about the process made them stop, and how that can be resolved," Schooler said. "As a broker, we can easily learn who our client's staff liasion is, and then have a three-person meeting."
The new portal is an evolutionary step for the city's planning, zoning and business permitting offices. Up until now, they've operated on different, antiquated software packages for departments like property inspection, planning, permitting, code enforcement and more.
More phases of the digital revamp will debut in 2016, including tools for building permit and development plan applications online. A software package will eventually integrate all the services with a smartphone app where applicants, their realty brokers, contractors, engineers and architects can follow application progress in real time.
"It is great to see Mayor Dyer, Commissioner Stewart and City of Orlando staff put their money into such a useful project for business," Palta said. "It shows they are in fact pro-business, pro-entrepreneurship and is why City of Orlando leads the state of Florida in job creation."