Osceola's W192 Development Authority is in early discussions with Duke Energy about burying powerlines on a busy stretch of the tourist corridor as early as 2018.
The authority is looking into doing a pilot project on the 0.75-mile segment from S.R. 417 to the Seralago Hotel property line. The segment includes Old Town, which is in the middle of a $10 million renovation, and the Roomba Inn & Suites, which will be demolished and rebuilt next year.
David Holzapfel, planning consultant for the Roomba project, said moving the utilities underground would vastly improve the curb appeal on W192 and raise property values. He pointed to International Drive, south of Sand Lake Road, as a prime example.
"Look at I-Drive – look how far they’ve come," he said. "The value of the real estate is a gazillion. The demand for that location has just increased exponentially – why can’t we do it here?"
Executive Director David Buchheit and board member Mel Pearlman met with Duke officials to discuss the feasibility of burying powerlines on the tourist corridor. Underground utilities is one of the redevelopment agency's highest priorities.
Duke Energy spokeswoman Ana Gibbs previously told GrowthSpotter that installing underground powerlines can be 10 to 15 times more expensive than overhead lines.
"At first I thought it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars," Pearlman said. "When we talked with their engineering people, they were very optimistic that it could be done."
Duke estimates it would cost $6.4 million to install underground transmission lines simultaneously on both sides of the highway for that entire segment. The cost estimate to bury the lines on just the south side of the road is $2 million, along with $1.5 million for the north side.
Either option would be well within budget for the authority, which generated about $6 million in tax revenue this year.
"We decided we couldn’t do it in 2017 but could start discussion for 2018," he said.
Gibbs stressed that these were "non-binding estimates" that are computer generated. "They are meant to be used as tools for customers to discuss and decide whether to proceed (or invest) any further into a project, or modify the scope of a project," she said. "If a customer decides to proceed, the next step would be investing in a binding cost estimate."
Buchheit said Duke has offered to use its in-house engineering staff, at minimal cost to the authority, to generate actual construction estimates.
"That’s huge," Chairman Hector Lizasuain said. "I couldn’t be more thankful for them to go through that because that will help us create a budget going forward. There’s always been complaints about how unappealing the overhead power lines look. We're in a real good position to chip away at that."
Lizasuain is project manager for Magic Place, which is planning to bury the power lines in front of its $1.7 billion project just east of Seralago. He was just one of several authority members who suggested expanding the study area.
"Let’s see what it would it cost to do for all of Segment 2," he said. "Right now it still has a lot of vacant land, and it would be cheaper to do it while there’s no driveways in place and no infrastructure in place. So let's just do it while the costs are low."
Segment 2 of the district extends all the way from the I-4 interchange to S.R. 535, also known as Kissimmee-Vineland Road.
Buchheit said completing the pilot project on the Old Town segment is something that could be accomplished relatively quickly. "It’s exciting to see numbers that are reasonable with undergrounding," Buchheit said. "This would give us an opportunity to see what it looks like with the new signs. Plus all of the streetlights will be repainted this year."
Holzapfel said the only downside of the project would be having to live through the construction. Still, he believes many property owners would invest in utility line burial serving their businesses.
"For us, I think everyone would want it underground just for curb appeal in itself," he said. "It gives you so much less clutter. I’m very much in favor of it."