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Feasibility, funding study to come on I-Drive & Sand Lake Rd bridge (video)

Insight from county staff on the steps that lie ahead for determining how to build a popular bridge concept in the tourism corridor, and who would pay for it.

Finalizing agreements on the design, funding and timeline for a proposed pedestrian bridge at International Drive and Sand Lake Road could come next year, as Orange County planners are preparing to start a feasibility study on the project.

"This is in line with the I-Drive vision, it's perfect and what's needed for the area, and county staff is behind this," said Jason H. Sorensen, planner with Orange County's Planning Division, who has worked closely on the pedestrian bridge discussions over the past year.

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An animated video (above) of the latest pedestrian bridge design was shown on Friday by county planning staff at an International Drive Resort Area Chamber of Commerce luncheon. Renderings of this design were first introduced in July by local architecture firm HHCP.

Orange County has a verbal agreement with three of the four property owners thus far at the I-Drive and Sand Lake Road intersection, who would give a portion of their land as Right-of-Way (ROW) for landings of the bridge.

Those that have agreed include Joshua Wallack, developer of the 11.46 acres on the intersection's northeast corner planned for Skyplex entertainment complex, Moore Management Co., whose affiliate owns the International Bazaar Row Stores on the southwest corner, and New York-based Flag Luxury and Orlando's Unicorp National Developments, which own the Walgreens on the southeast corner.

McDonald's operator Oerther Foods is the lone owner that has yet to fully commit, Sorensen said. "They've said they are excited about the project, and just need to get final approval from their corporate office."

Orange County is now preparing to conduct a feasibility study on the pedestrian bridge project, potentially to start in early 2017, he said. The bridge is part of Orange County's 2040 Vision plan for the tourism corridor, which emphasizes improved walkability.

The Florida Department of Transportation has given its preliminary approval to the project, said Sorensen, and "understands the importance of getting pedestrians off the street and crosswalks off the grade for better veicular movement."

FDOT's final approval for the project will be necessary. Orange County, FDOT and private land owners have also not reached an agreement on how to fund the project.

Sorensen said part of the county's feasibility study would include trying to get a commitment from stakeholders to commit some funds to the project. "The county may be able to contribute to that effort as well, based on a percentage."

The pedestrian bridge project was first introduced by Wallack in 2013, developer of Mango's Tropical Cafe and Skyplex. He estimated this week that the bridge could cost between $40 million and $50 million to build.

As a stakeholder at the intersection, Wallack did not volunteer a private sum on Tuesday that he'd be willing to give to the bridge project, indicating future Skyplex development fees should suffice.

"We anticipate large impact fees for Skyplex permits that could be used as credits, plus our ROW," he said.

Chuck Whittall, CEO of Unicorp that co-owns the Walgreens property, said his group is willing to contribute financially to build the bridge, but has not talked with the county yet about how much will be needed.

Luann Brooks, executive director of the International Drive Business Improvement District, said Tuesday her advisory board has not yet considered if it would contribute funds collected from its members for the bridge project.

"The county has yet to present this to our advisory board," she said. "The county has quite a job ahead to secure all of this, but it's certainly exciting to think this could take place on I-Drive, and improve the pedestrian and veicular flow at our busiest intersection."

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Orange County is committed to creating a dynamic International Drive district for visitors and residents, and designing a walkable and safe area is key to that, Mayor Teresa Jacobs said on Wednesday.

"A pedestrian bridge at this highly-used intersection will not only enhance safety, but will serve as an iconic gateway for the district," she said. "The county, along with stakeholders on I-Drive, have identified this project as a priority, and working together, will develop the steps to move forward."

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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