The Celebration Company (TCC) has reached an agreement with Osceola County Schools that helps clear the way for a major expansion of the masterplanned community to almost 90 percent of its full buildout of 8,065 residential units.
TCC, a subsidiary of The Walt Disney Company, owns approximately 370 acres south of the World Drive interchange slated for a development called "Island Village." It has always been a part of the master development plan, but environmental constraints dictated that it would be the final village to be developed in the community. The site is entitled for 1,010 homes and 300 multifamily units.
"The reason it was called Island Village was because really what you had was a sea of green, and then you have these islands of upland," architect Mauricio Castro told GrowthSpotter.
Castro was a part of the Looney Ricks Kiss team that consulted for TCC and hosted design charrettes for the project eight years ago.
"It was complicated because of the site," he said. "Access to the site -- they are surrounded by wetlands -- and you had to deal with environmental and natural conditions."
At the time, the focus was on Low Impact Design and sustainability. "We wanted to take green building to another level," Castro said. "It wasn't just about solar, but it was also about stormwater management. I have to believe that's still a part of it."
Island Village is also slated to have parks and civic uses, but extremely limited retail. A new shopping center planned at the World Drive interchange would include a neighborhood grocery store and several restaurants.
The conceptual plan shows the community being accessed by an extension of Celebration Boulevard, south of World Drive along Interstate 4, and connecting the neighborhoods through a series of bridges over the wetlands.
Jose Gomez, principal engineer for the county, said Osceola's land development code requires more than one access point to a community.
The Reedy Creek Improvement District has notified the South Florida Water Management District it would be seeking a modification to its master permit to accommodate a second vehicular access point for the community.
It's been nearly a year since the Celebration residents started hearing that Disney/TCC was close to reaching a deal to sell the Island Village to a developer. At the time, residents strongly objected to a plan by the school district to expand the existing K-8 facility to accommodate as many as 1,000 new students coming from Island Village.
"There was a lot of pushback," real estate agent Scott Rohrbach said. "They were going to add a middle school downtown, and to do that, they were going to have to remove athletic fields, and that was a big issue."
Another big concern was how the proposed expansion would have added to an existing traffic gridlock problem downtown because children attending from Island Village wouldnt' be within walking distance of the campus. The Celebration School concept is focused on children walking to school.
The Celebration Residential Owners Association (CROA) appointed a special task force, chaired by former Disney imagineer Tom Sunnanborg, to find an alternative solution.
"The best way to defeat an idea we don't like is to come up with a better idea," Sunnanborg explained at the ninth and final task force meeting.
The task force recommended the district keep the middle school downtown and build a new K-5 school within Island Village to accommodate students from those neighborhoods. Those terms were incorporated into the June 21 agreement signed by TCC and the Osceola County School Board.
The agreement has several key points:
- TCC will donate, or cause to be donated, a 10-acre parcel within the Island Village development for a new K-5 school;
- In addition to paying for site work improvements, TCC (or the developer) will pay the school district $12 million toward the construction of the school, including $3.5 million at the closing date;
- Osceola County Schools will complete the school in time for the start of 2019-20 school year.
"Without this deal, there is no Island Village," TCC Predevelopment Manager Todd Rimmer told members of the task force. He said he expects Island Village to be completed within a decade, and the project leaves TCC with entitlements for another 900 residential units before it reaches full buildout.
The prospect of a new building boon in Celebration has local Realtors buzzing.
"I've been hearing this stuff for years," Nectar Real Estate agent Keith Renner told GrowthSpotter. "People like new construction for obvious reasons -- you can choose your finishes. You have more options. And Celebration's a beautiful place. I think there would be excitement over an area that large opening up."
TCC has not disclosed the name of the developer, but there is wide speculation that it's North Carolina-based Crescent Communities, a residential development arm of Duke Energy.
Castro said the developer would have to be someone with the financial capability to put in the necessary infrastructure to develop the site. "I know Crescent was involved three or four years ago, but that deal didn't work," he said. "There may be a potential third player."
Officials at TCC/Disney and Crescent could not be reached for comment.