Board members unanimously approved their first five year capital improvement plan, as well as a FY2019 budget that drastically shifts the spending out of grant programs and into capital projects.
"It's a massive reduction in grants, but I think we're at a point in our life cycle where we need to do that," Executive Director David Buchheit said. "I just don't think we're getting a good return on our investment."
The Old Town area would be the first to benefit from the increased spending. The FY2019 budget would allocate $2 million to move utilities underground and $1.5 million to update the streetscape with a more neutral black and gray color scheme and new landscaping. Those projects comprise two-thirds of the $5.175 million budget for the year.
"These are the type of improvements that move the needle pretty fast," Buchheit said.
The utility burial has long been a priority for the development authority, and Buchheit has spent the last two years working with Duke Energy on a plan to bury the power lines. He recommended issuing revenue bonds to pay for the project, but that would require a change to the district's Municipal Service Benefit Unit.
Bonding for underground utilities is pretty standard, and it would allow the authority do larger sections more quickly, Buchheit said. It also would reduce the annual cost and allow the MSBU to bury the distribution lines and take out all of the utility poles.
"It would certainly have a major impact to do the whole project at once," board member Dimitri Toumazos said.
The five-year CIP allocates similar expenditures in FY2020 on the segment from S.R. 429 to Formosa Gardens Boulevard. Board members initially wanted to focus first on that area, which includes Margaritaville Resort. They opted to push it back a year while they work out a deal with Orange County to pay for similar improvements on the north side of the highway.
The other big ticket item on the five-year CIP would be to add two pedestrian bridges, potentially in the Old Town area and near the new Walmart SuperCenter at Old Lake Wilson Road. The FY2019 budget includes funding for a Preliminary Development & Environmental (PD&E) study for the first bridge at Old Town. The bridge would be constructed in 2021.
There was no hestitation to move forward with the project, despite the fatal bridge collapse at Florida International University last month.
"These are a high priority for the Central Florida Hotel and Lodging Association," Buchheit said. "One thing I can tell you is it won't be concrete."
Buchheit estimates each overpass could cost around $15 million, but the authority would apply for state and federal grants to offset the expense. And since they would also serve as "gateways" for the tourism corridor, they could be eligible for Tourist Development Tax expenditures.
"If you look at how they've done the pedestrian bridges in Las Vegas, it really does add to the ambiance of the whole area," Buchheit said.
Board member John Classe suggested launching a PD&E study for the second bridge in FY2021. "We should keep the pipeline going," he said.
The underground utility and streetscape improvements would be moved to the Lake Cecile area, at a funding level of $5 milion, in FY2022. The segment around Magic Place would be funded over the next two fiscal years for a total of $10.7 million.