Pockets of opportunity in I-Drive corridor with $45M+ in transit projects coming

More than $45 million in Orange County-sponsored transit improvement projects will start in the International Drive corridor over the next two years. Existing property owners stand to gain from the improved connectivity, but investors and developers that act now on undeveloped land may reap the biggest windfall.

Here's a look at the most prominent road works projects planned by the county, and notable undeveloped land parcels in the path of each:


International Drive (from S. Westwood to N. Westwood Boulevard)

This project involves widening a 2.5-mile stretch of I-Drive to the median, from four lanes to six lanes. Construction should start this August, with Orange County estimating the cost at $21.6 million (engineering consultant is AVCON, general contractor is Hubbard Construction).


The I-Drive Visioning Committee could still add this stretch as a new SeaWorld-anchored subdistrict for the I-Drive master plan that's due in December. If so, expansion of this major thoroughfare could include broad sidewalks, landscaped medians and building codes that activate the street front.

New York-based investment firm AWH Partners jumped on this potential early. It bought the Doubletree by Hilton Orlando at SeaWorld on May 19 for more than $54 million, and will invest $30 million in renovations over the next 18 months.

The largest undeveloped parcel along this 2.5-mile stretch is directly across from the Doubletree, a 28-acre site owned by Orange County -- just north of SeaWorld's Aquatica water park -- that's now home to a county water treatment plant.

During Friday's I-Drive Visioning Committee monthly meeting, Orange County planning staff mocked up a conceptual mixed-use development for the property. It included 102,450 square feet of big-box retail, 179,900 square feet of smaller retail, 177,300 square feet of office space, 57,600 square feet of institutional/public use, 300 residential units, 2,100 parking spaces, along with green space to spare.

Planning Manager Alberto Vargas cited Orlando's SoDo complex with Target as a similar mixed-use concept on a similar parcel size. The mock up was solely a concept meant to spur ideas about land redevelopment, but it drew immediate praise from I-Drive stakeholders in attendance.

South of Aquatica on this stretch of I-Drive is a 22-acre parcel owned by SeaWorld, its current use listed as "planted timber" on the Orange County Property Appraiser's site. The land is part of a Planned Development, bordered by the water park to the north, retail and dining to the south, and single-family homes to the east.

On the opposite side of I-Drive, directly south of SeaWorld's Discovery Cove, Florham Park, N.J.-based Ridgewood Real Estate Partners is in the process of redeveloping 200 acres as mixed-use with residential, tourist commercial, hotel, office and timeshare uses, after buying the property from Marriott Vacations Worldwide  in February 2014 for about $24 million.

At the tail-end of this I-Drive stretch, as it intersects with S. Westwood Boulevard, lie 39.25 acres of PD-zoned property owned by Orlando-based Phoenicia DevelopmentTen acres are already developed with a small shopping center, but the property entitlements boast 869 multi-family units and 55,000 square feet of building space.


I-Drive Pedestrian Bridge

A covered bridge that will connect to the Orange County Convention Center, span I-Drive and touch down via escalator and elevator at the Hyatt Regency Hotel. Construction started July 13 and is scheduled for completion in April 2017, at a cost of $9.6 million (engineering consultant is Reynolds Smith & Hills; architect is Rhodes + Brito; general contractor is Southland Construction).

Directly north of the Hyatt Regency lie 71.1 gross acres on three undeveloped parcels, individually owned by Universal City Property Management (an affiliate of Universal Orlando), Hyatt Group and OHL Holdings (affiliate of Atlanta-based developer Stan Thomas).

With pedestrian traffic drawn by the bridge, non-Hyatt guests at OCCC will have direct access to property behind the hotel. Michael Lockwood, principal for architectural research firm Populous, told OCCC officials in June he envisions those properties as an L.A. Live-esque complex with a mix of hospitality, entertainment and parking garage.

International Drive Transit Lanes

Orange County planning staff is beginning final design of transit lanes for buses and possibly bikes/pedicabs that will extend from the superstop on Destination Parkway north on International Drive, across Via Mercado to Universal Boulevard and north to Sand Lake Road. Construction is expected to commence in 2017 (engineering consultant is Kimley Horn & Associates).


At the intersection of Sand Lake and Universal Boulevard, Lockheed Martin owns a 6.88-acre undeveloped parcel that's zoned commercial, and could blossom with a wider thoroughfare, new hotels and tourist-commercial development to the south.

Farther south on Universal are up to 500 acres in undeveloped parcels that Colony Capital, an international investment firm based in Santa Monica, Calif., is in the process of acquiring through a foreclosure process with affiliate LLCs of Atlanta-area developer Stan Thomas.

Within this segment of Universal north of Via Mercado Way, a 17-acre parcel is being pursued by Orlando-based Unicorp National Developments, which has an offer in to Colony, and is eying the land for mixed-use entertainment concepts, CEO Chuck Whittall told GrowthSpotter in early May.

That property lies directly across Universal Boulevard from Unicorp's I-Drive 360 development. Whittall has entitlements to build two hotels directly east (or behind) the Orlando Eye totaling 1,000 rooms in area currently used as ground parking. Whittall said Friday he envisions a pedestrian bridge connecting that parcel and future hotels to an entertainment site across Universal, on the Colony Capital land being pursued.

Destination Parkway

The final segment of this project -- which extends from Lake Cay to Tradeshow Boulevard -- is now going to bid, with construction expected in start in early 2016 (engineering consultant is Atkins).


The I-Drive connectivity that a completed Destination Parkway will provide to undeveloped land farther east has motivated a number of developers to start plans this year.

A development group from Estero, Fla., is pursuing retail and dining chains for an 18-acre parcel at the corner of Universal Boulevard and Destination Parkway, eager to capitalize on the parkway's connection to I-Drive that could be ready by mid-2016.

Orlando-based architecture, design and urban planning firm C.T. Hsu + Associates and partner The Tavistock Group are readying 195 acres on S. John Young Parkway for five-star hotel groups and corporate tenants seeking headquarter-scale office space.

Right along the portion of Destination Parkway that has yet to be built, two parcels totaling 20 acres of PD-zoned vacant commercial land are owned by Redus Florida Land, an LLC linked to Wells Fargo Bank in Charlotte.

Just over 23 acres of PD-zoned vacant commercial lie on a parcel being acquired by Colony Capital, and a 1.35-acre parcel is registered with OHL Holdings, a Stan Thomas affiliate mentioned earlier.

John Young Parkway/Sand Lake Road Interchange


Orange County is partnering with the Florida Department of Transportation on this project, for up to $15 million. FDOT is currently doing the design and is expected to commence construction in April 2016.

On the west side of this intersection, Universal Studios Property Management owns a 180-acre undeveloped parcel and 65-acre undeveloped parcel currently zoned PD-waste land.

Heading west on W. Sand Lake Road, the most notable parcel is a 101-acre undeveloped site with PD-commercial zoning. Owned by IA Orlando Sand LLC, an affiliate of The Inland Real Estate Group of Companies, this parcel lies directly south of Tangelo Park neighborhood, and will have a future extension of Mandarin Drive run through it. Orange County plans long-term to extend Mardarin Drive southwest, around Lockheed Martin property, and connect it at the Universal Boulevard-Via Mercado Way intersection, which lies just south of the I-Drive 360. or (407) 420-5685