Osceola County Manager Don Fisher said the master plan for a world-class tech research park at Judge Farms is starting to take shape after a team from Perkins + Will spent much of last week meeting with local stakeholders.
The county hired the Austin-based firm in May to develop the masterplan for the research park, dubbed The Farm, which is anchored by the Florida Advanced Manufactoring Research Center.
"They had a team of about a dozen people -- planners, architects, engineers, economists and transportation planners -- and they held three days of charrettes," Fisher said.
The team met privately with business leaders, school officials, ICAMR, Valencia College, E192 property owners and government officials. During each session, artists sketched ideas and concepts for the research park. Fisher said they briefed him at the end of each day. After the charrettes, the team had produced at least a dozen renderings of the basic layout and road network for the 500 acres.
"We picked the best two for them to try to combine into a single plan," he told GrowthSpotter. "It really gave us insight. One of the things that came out was that they're looking at ways to move the pond into the property and designing around it."
An earlier conceptual plan showed a large retention pond at the rear of the property. Fisher said relocating the pond could make it more of a design feature. "We looked at a soft edge, like Lake Eola, or doing more of a hard edge and building cafes along the waterfront," he said.
Stephen Coulston, P+W project manager, told GrowthSpotter the opportunity to create waterfront property in the heart of the project will generate higher property values and make the Farm a destination.
"We have a volume of water we have to deal with," he said. "We want it to become a more celebrated part of the site."
P+W will turn in its first master plan draft by the end of the month. Coulston said it would bear little resemblance to the original concept.
"We need to be able to get something out right away so we can begin to tell the vision of this site," he said. "We want to be able to cross pollinate with the guidelines for the CRA district. Fundamentally – there's been a drawing circulating around for a long time – here's a pond, here's some streets. We need to tell a new story."
Coming on the heels of the county's new partnership with a Belgian tech firm (dubbed "project NANO") that will head its new $30 million design center and a MOU with PhotonDelta, the FARM is building momentum globally.
"I've been surprised by the amount of international interest," Fisher said. "The South Koreans have reach out to us about having a presence there."
Coulston said his lead economist believes Osceola will have no problem recruiting industry - the challenge will be making sure the community is prepared to deal with the success. They project a much faster buildout than even the most optimistic county leader anticipated.
"The software companies will come five to 10 years down the road," he said. "The hardware firms might come immediately. They're not going to be doing major manufacturing here. This isn't really perceived as a manufacturing site, but more of a (research and development.) This is where the brain trust will reside."
For that reason, a lot of the discussion during the charrettes focused on issues like workforce training, SunRail connectivity and the quality of the region's housing stock.
"A lot of our interviews were really understanding the marketplace," Coulston said. "The supply and adequacy of housing – that ranges from affordable housing to the kind of housing that is desirable and aligns at what our millennial generation is looking at – all the way up to the spectrum of executive housing."
The Farm is envisioned as a mixed-use district with the blend of office, commercial, residential and public uses.
Coulston told GrowthSpotter he likes "The Farm" as a working name for the project, but feels it needs to be broadened to create a global brand. It needs a few words wrapped around it, he said.
"I think brand recognition is going to be really critical to this site and this location," he said. "I think there needs to be a thoughtful conversation about making it something more ubiquitous."
He said the county should avoid using words like "innovation" in the branding because so many other jurisdictions have innovation districts. "The fact that you have a farm here, I think is an interesting thing," he said. "When you think about it, a farm is a place where you plant a seed and watch it grow. There's a compelling story to that, and it also ties into the history of the region."