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Orlando construction hotter than Sun Belt peers

Construction of apartment complexes contributed to Orlando's robust mix of permits pulled in 2014.
Construction of apartment complexes contributed to Orlando's robust mix of permits pulled in 2014. (Stephen M. Dowell, Orlando Sentinel)

While other sun-drenched, growth-minded areas across the country are experiencing a construction boom, nothing matches Orlando.

The Orlando metro area is tops in the number of new commercial projects, their costs and sizes when compared with similar parts of the country such as Phoenix, San Diego and San Antonio, according to numbers run for GrowthSpotter by BidClerk, which tracks construction across the United States.

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The Orlando metropolitan area had 1,125 projects worth $5.89 billion put out for bid in 2014.

This compares with 853 projects worth $2.97 billion in the Phoenix area, 989 projects worth $4.17 billion in San Diego, and 876 worth $5.13 billion in San Antonio.

Of the 1,125 Orlando projects, 342 were valued over $1 million and worth $5.67 billion. The $1 million-plus number is important because it shows that expansion at a larger scale is going on, meaning more jobs and growth.

The figure compares with just 170 projects worth over $1 million and valued at $1.12 billion in 2011, when the Orlando area was still hurting from the recession.

As for other areas, 269 projects worth $2.82 billion were valued over $1 million in Phoenix last year, and in San Diego, 301 worth $3.98 billion were valued over $1 million. San Antonio had just 33 projects worth $4.97 billion valued over $1 million.

Another key metric for Orlando projects in 2014 is that a good chunk--$2.4 billion--of the $5.89 billion put out for bid was for new construction, while the rest was for additions to existing buildings or remodeling. That 41 percent went to brand new projects says significant money is going into growth, an expression of confidence in the Orlando area's future.

For 2014, the biggest commercial projects put out for bid in Orlando were, according to BidClerk:

"Orlando has a great market," said Todd Ciganek, vice president of content at BidClerk. "It is pretty well rounded from a private and public construction standpoint. There is a solid list of projects that reflect diversity."

The boom is partially being caused by visions that were put on hold when tough times hit. "Some people are trying to dust off the blueprints from projects that were put on hold because of the recession," said Alan Sheppard, an attorney at Greenberg Traurig in Orlando who specializes in commercial real estate. "At the same time new ones are coming in."

The area is also seeing different product types. Examples are more industrial in south Orlando and areas around Sanford, and high-rise multifamily development with retail on lower floors in downtown Orlando.

The diversity "will well position Orlando to keep attracting talent," Sheppard said.

As for the possibility the data showing Orlando is starting to overheat, "We're moving fairly quickly but we're not getting ahead of ourselves," said Mekael Teshome, economist at PNC Bank. "Orlando has a lot going for it. For cities of its size, it has a competitive cost of doing business, a growing population and a deep talent pool, all of which are appealing traits."

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