This has been a historic year for Osceola County as the tourism corridor begins to reach critical mass and the Florida Tech Farm takes shape.
Three mega-developments along W192 promise to transform the corridor in the coming years. Encore Capital broke ground early this year on the 330-acre Margaritaville Resort, which opens in early 2018.
In September, the W192 Development Authority approved a planning grant and confidentiality agreement for a $400 million development dubbed "Project Edison."
Executive Director David Buchheit said the developer already has a site on the corridor between I-4 and SR 535. The confidential project "will include a purpose-built convention center and entertainment district," Buchheit said. "It will have multiple 4-star hotels with a minimum of 500 rooms, along with 4-star shopping and dining."
On March 19, GrowthSpotter readers saw the first images of Magic Place by Pininfarina. Magic Development will break ground on the $1.7 billion luxury branded resort after the new year. Meanwhile, the owners of Seralago and the Roomba Inn announced plans to demolish their aging hotel properties and redevelop their sites.
More than a dozen hotel properties on the corridor changed hands in 2016. Countywide, hotel sales exceeded $44 million, led by the sale of the Spinghill Suites at Calypso Cay for $16.3 million.
One particular tract at the southwest corner of W192 and SR 429 was in the news repeatedly - first when a tourism consultant advised Osceola County to buy the 217-acre parcel and develop a huge baseball and softball complex there.
In September racing enthusiast Andy Bardar shared his plans to locate a $50 million sports car-themed attraction on the site. The auto-sports country club would have a 3.5-mile test track designed by Tilke Engineers & Architects. Bardar said the track would include anywhere from 17 to 22 turns, allowing top speeds of around 120 mph on the straightaways.
Osceola's E192 corridor was highlighted this year by the continued development of the former 500-acre Judge Farm property. In May the county engaged Perkins+Will to develop a master plan for the high tech research park, which is anchored by the Florida Advanced Manufacturing Research Center.
Shortly after, county commissioners enacted a 6-month building moratorium within the E192 CRA district to develop design guidelines for the entire corridor that would complement the research park. And just last week the board selected Nashville-based Century HealthRealty and Skanska to build the first 100,000-square-foot office building at the Florida Tech Farm.
But the biggest development of the year was the announcement in July that Belgian research cooperative imec had agreed to locate its U.S. headquarters at the Tech Farm and operate the new design center.
Imec researchers have collaborated in the development of sensor technology for everything from solar cells, to quantum computing, to driverless cars and wearable fitness trackers.
"Because imec has international credibility established for 30 years and a proven track record throughout the world – if you need design work done, Osceola County and Kissimmee is where you're going to come to get it done," County Manager Don Fisher told GrowthSpotter.
The county saw a number of large real estate transactions, but none surpassed the $121 million Tupperware collected for the sale of its Crosslands shopping center. The Hampshire Companies, a real estate investment firm based in Morristown, New Jersey, acquired both properties through its HUH foreign investment fund.
The Osceola County Expressway Authority opened its first toll road - the long-awaited Poinciana Parkway - and traffic counts surpassed even the most generous projections. Construction started on SunRail's southern expansion, including three new stations in Oscoela County.
But the three-way agreement between the county, OCX and the Central Florida Expressway Authority to build and manage the county's future toll roads was the most-read transportation story of the year. CFX is in the process of hiring engineering firms to evaluate each of the county's future toll roads to determine priority, cost and feasibility.
Any number of residential projects could have topped our list for story of the year. New home construction was booming in the county as new communities, such as Twin Lakes, began to take shape and Harmony launched a major expansion.
In March, Tavistock Development Company revealed its plans to develop 24,000 acres in Orange and Osceola counties as sister communities dubbed Sunbridge. The developer filed its Mixed-Use PD and Comprehensive Plan Amendment in September.
The story that generated the most buzz was Disney's plan to open its last phase for development. GrowthSpotter broke the story in September that Disney's Celebration Company had signed a contract with Osceola County Schools to build a K-5 school on the future Island Village. That deal opens the door for 1,310 new homes in the master planned community, and in November CBRE's Robert McEwan began marketing the 340 acres for sale.
Both Kissimmee and St. Cloud embarked on mixed-use projects aimed at revitalizing their downtowns. In Kissimmee, Phase 1 of Mosaic Development's 10-acre redevelopment got under way at Toho Square, where construction started on a new parking garage that will be wrapped by apartments and bookended by a brownstone-style townhomes.
ADMC's investment in downtown St. Cloud culminated in late October with an agreement between the developer and city to build a 10-15 story mixed-use building on a vacant lot steps from City Hall. ADMC CEO Albert Leka agreed to invest at least $10 million in the downtown core and to provide a set of architectural plans to the city for a new parking garage.