The reconstruction of S. Orange Avenue, which kicks off in February, will launch a $20 million public investment in the SoDo neighborhood by state and local government over the next five years.
Martin Hudson, economic development director for the Downtown South Neighborhood Improvement District (NID), briefed City Council members this week on the investments in public infrastructure that will coincide with land development code update revising the design guidelines for the 720-acre district.
"This district is probably one of the next big moments of economic development in the city of Orlando," Hudson said. "It is positioned to do a lot."
The Orange Avenue project is broken into two phases beginning at the southern point of the district and moving north. Phase one comprises the segment from Pineloch to Grant Street and is funded for $2.38 million, of which $180,000 is being paid by the NID from the proceeds of the extra 1-mil assessment on all property owners. The City and NID are also each paying $250,000 for an intersection improvement at Orange and Michigan Street.
In addition to the road repaving, the project will include new ADA-compliant decorative crosswalks enhanced with the SoDo logo and orange slice motif. Landscaping and sidewalks also will be improved, and new LED streetlights will be installed.
Phase 2, extending from Grant Street to the district boundary at Gore Street, is fully funded ($4 million) for construction in 2021. That same year, FDOT will spend $5 million to build a 10-foot paved pedestrian and bike trail along Division Avenue, providing connectivity to the SunRail station at Orlando Health. The NID is contributing $200,000 toward that project, Hudson said.
"It will have public art installed along it and extra-special attention paid to the visualization of the area," he said.
New Lynx bus shelters will be installed along Orange Avenue at locations closer to signalized crosswalks to improve pedestrian safety. The NID also has funding approved this year to design a linear park, called the O-Line, at street level along the SunRail line between Columbia and Gore.
"It's going to create an urban park through the gut of the district," Hudson said.
The public investment is key to implementing the strategic vision for SoDo, which has already attracted significant private investment. The district will see the opening soon of Delaney Hotel and cafe as well as a new Towneplace Suites and Rock Pit Brewing.
The Intram Investments-Bluerock Commercial joint venture at the corner of Pineloch and Orange is also nearing completion with the opening soon of Lucky's Market. The neighboring ECCO on Orange apartments by LeCesse Development will be delivered later this year.
The district's largest employer, Orlando Health, is tax exempt but contributes $175,000 per year to the NID, making it the single largest contributor to the district. The hospital system also recently announced a duo of new projects at its campus, including a new medical office building and parking garage.
Hudson said he's met recently with developers from Atlanta, Dallas and St. Louis who were interested in touring the district, which includes an Opportunity Zone from Gore to Michigan and from Orange to Interstate 4.
The Land Development Code update is designed to encourage more redevelopment, especially in areas that are transitioning from industrial to mixed uses.
"We're requesting minor modifications to the zoning overlay," Hudson said. "A lot of the changes you will see are pretty simple changes: facade design, setback changes, building height changes, signage. It's not a holistic change to the current code -- just some tweaks to the help those properties, especially along that industrial zone, who are interested in redeveloping."
The proposed text amendment creates a new SoDo Technical Development Review Committee to review all new developments and redevelopment in the district through a master plan review process. The committee will include a planning official, public works director and permitting services division manager (or their designees).
Building height is capped at 9 stories in the most urban-intense zones. But the new code would allow for height and density bonuses (up to 17 stories) for mixed-use projects, transit-oriented developments, and those that provide "superior architectural design."
In General Urban zones, along the east side of Orange Avenue and north of Michigan, projects could seek a conditional use for a height waiver, from 3 stories to 4 stories, using the same criteria.
Some other code changes would allow businesses to install signage on their rooftops and printed on awnings. Three dimensional signs could also be allowed, according to the new rules.