Universal helps launch lobbying campaign against Skyplex with website, mailers

Updated: November 19, 2015 6:12 PM — A lobbying campaign organized by Universal Orlando and 17 citizens against the proposed Skyplex entertainment complex has been amplified in the past few days, with an official campaign website launched against the project and printed flyers mailed out to local homes.

Titled "Save Our Orange County Community," the website domain name was registered on Nov. 12. Flyers have been mailed out in recent days to homeowners in Orlando.


The site lists 18 founding members for the campaign, including Universal Orlando.

The site includes language that claims the Skyplex project will increase noise and light pollution in the area, and add traffic to an already congested intersection of Sand Lake Road and International Drive.


At 700 feet above sea level, the campaign claims the Skyplex tower will be visible for 30 miles. The group encourages visitors to write letters to Orange County planning and zoning staff, and their county commissioners, prior to the Dec. 1 hearing for Skyplex at the Board of County Commissioners.

Chuck Whittall, CEO of Unicorp National Developments and developer of I-Drive 360, said Thursday the new campaign makes clear that Universal Studios is concerned Skyplex will be competition to them.

"(Universal Studios) are using every tactic they can to prevent competition in the marketplace," he said. "I am very confident that Orange County staff, commissioners and the mayor will see through the behavior that they are so poorly displaying."

Rezoning of Wallack's five parcels (11.46 acres) at the northwest corner of Sand Lake Road and I-Drive was fully recommended for approval in June by county staff on the Development Review Committee. The county's Planning and Zoning Commission declined to recommend the project on Oct. 15, and now the BCC could rule on the Skyplex rezoning on Dec. 1.

"This is obviously led by Universal Studios, I'm sure it's paid for by them and led by John McReynolds, as this mailer is written in a political action committee style," Joshua Wallack, principal of Wallack Holdings and developer of Skyplex, told GrowthSpotter.

John McReynolds, senior vice president of external relations for Universal Orlando, has led the theme park company's vocal opposition to the height of the Skyplex project over the past six to eight months at county planning meetings.

Calls to McReynolds were not returned on Thursday. Universal spokesman Tom Schroder said Thursday that McReynolds is "voicing the opinion of our company, which is his job. And like any other member of our community, we have the right to be heard on this issue."

McReynolds began publicly speaking out against the proposed height of Skyplex in late June, at a rezoning hearing for the project at the county's Development Review Committee.


McReynolds and other representatives of Universal Orlando have been more outspoken in recent months at meetings of the steering committee for the International Drive/Convention Plaza District 2040 Strategic Vision Plan, with complaints that their property was not included in the vision plan's boundary, and that W. Sand Lake Road was not prepared to handle more traffic from Skyplex and other development in the area.

The website refers to Wallack as a "Miami Beach developer," though he has lived in Orlando since August 2013 and has invested more than $50 million in the Mango's Tropical Cafe Orlando development on International Drive, which is slated to open next month.

"This is clearly created by a political lobbyist, in attack-ad fashion," Wallack said. "McReynolds is a professional lobbyist. Regular citizens wouldn't go to this length."

McReynolds is the incoming 2016 chairman of the International Association of Amusement Parks and Attractions (IAAPA).

IAAPA bylaws state that its board of directors must avoid conflicts of interest, while its code of conduct states that members must conduct their businesses on the highest plane of integrity, honesty and social responsibility.

They also state that members must maintain cordial and respectful relations with fellow IAAPA members.


Wallack claimed to be a member of IAAPA on Thursday via WF Coaster Entertainment, an early LLC formed for his Skyplex project. However, an IAAPA spokeswoman said no record of that company, Skyplex or Wallack could be found as a member.

Orlando-based rollercoaster designer U.S. Thrill Rides, which created the polercoaster design for Skyplex, is an IAAPA member.

IAAPA spokeswoman Colleen Mangone said Thursday that as the industry's trade association, it is not IAAPA's role to comment on the business decisions or strategies of member companies, and that McReynold's volunteer role as chairman of IAAPA is not related to the Universal-Skyplex matter.

"No code of conduct complaint has been filed in this situation," she said. "If a complaint is filed, it will be addressed by our governance committee in accordance with the standard operating procedures of the association."

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