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Osceola County selects private company to replace UCF at NeoCity

Osceola County is negotiating with a private company to take over UCF's role as funding partner for BRIDG at NeoCity.
Osceola County is negotiating with a private company to take over UCF's role as funding partner for BRIDG at NeoCity. (Ricardo Ramirez Buxeda/Orlando Sentinel)

Osceola County appears to have found a successor to the University of Central Florida for its Center for NeoVation at NeoCity.

County Manager Don Fisher will unveil the name of the company Monday when he asks county commissioners to approve a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) for the firm to step in as the lead funding and operating partner for the advanced manufacturing and research center that anchors the county’s 500-acre technology district.

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The MOU would allow the county to negotiate exclusively with the company, dubbed Project Bromine in the draft agreement, for 60 days. If the negotiations succeed, Fisher would bring back an Economic Development agreement to the BOCC.

UCF first threatened to cut ties in late 2019 with the center and BRIDG, the non-profit organization that ran the research and manufacturing facility. The university formally ended the partnership in August but was locked into a 40-year lease that required it maintain a full staff at the facility. When Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed the $10 million funding allocation for BRIDG in the summer, UCF responded by laying off all but a handful of the employees.

The funding would have paid for high tech equipment and additional staffing for the advanced manufacturing facility in NeoCity.

Through much of that time, Fisher has been in discussions with several private companies hoping to lure a new partner to the center. UCF has also assisted in the search and could be on the hook for some transition funding payable to the successor company.

According to the MOU, UCF would assign the remaining term of the lease to Bromine, which acknowledges that it would also have to replace to the $50-60 million in funding from the university for operations and capital expenses, including additional tooling, over the first five years of the agreement.

BRIDG would remain at the facility, and Bromine would agree to interview and consider any former UCF/BRIDG employees for positions in the company. Bromine would operate the Center for NeoVation at full capacity for a minimum of 20 years. The company would strive to create at least 220 jobs in the first five years, and it would maintain existing relationships with BRIDG partners, such at imec, TEL, SUSS, the U.S. Department of Defense and various defense contractors.

Osceola County built the $21 million Class A office building to attract high-tech employers to NeoCity.

In addition, Bromine would negotiate to take over office space within the county-owned office building on the NeoCity campus. And “with respect to any expansion of its manufacturing/fabrication facilities associated with activities at the Center for NeoVation, Project Bromine will consider NeoCity as its location of first choice,” the agreement reads.

The Center for NeoVation includes 60,000 square feet of “clean room” space — facilities that make it an ideal location to capitalize on future federal funding aimed at growing investment in the domestic semiconductor manufacturing industry.

The company also pledges to provide “in-kind support” to the NeoCity Academy, a public STEM high school on the shared campus. The MOU doesn’t specify how it would support the school.

The NeoCity district has been Osceola County’s effort to ween itself from a low-wage, tourism-based economy that now endures the highest unemployment in the state. While the project has attracted private investment around NeoCity, mostly in the form of new Class-A multifamily housing, the county has been unable to sell any land within the district or lease out its 100,000 square-foot office building.

The county had issued a solicitation back in March for a brokerage firm to assist with marketing the land and and available office space in NeoCity. A selection committee short-listed four firms: CBRE, JLL, Cushman & Wakefield and Lincoln Property Services for the contract but put the selection on process on hold until the dispute with UCF is resolved and a new funding partner is in place.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-6261, or tweet me at @byLauraKinsler. Follow GrowthSpotter on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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