Sources and commissioners: Universal Orlando has contract for Colony Capital 474-acre package

The 19 parcels totaling 474 acres are shaded in gray with white outline on the map above.
The 19 parcels totaling 474 acres are shaded in gray with white outline on the map above. (CBRE)

UPDATED: DECEMBER 2, 2015 3:15 PM — Universal Orlando has a contract in place to buy the 474-acre package of 19 parcels owned by Colony Capital on Universal Boulevard, with plans to potentially build a new theme park east of Universal Boulevard and north of Destination Parkway, nine sources have told GrowthSpotter Tuesday afternoon through Wednesday, including three county commissioners on the record.

John McReynolds, head of external communications for Universal Orlando, and other Universal officials were at Orange County Board of County Commissioners meeting on Tuesday to lobby against the Skyplex entertainment complex, which was up for a rezoning decision.

CBRE's Orlando land services team was formally hired in mid-October, and Colony now wants to sell all 474 acres across 19 parcels as a package, with expectations of $150 million or more.

A global marketing campaign with CBRE started Oct. 30 for the land, with a focus to sell it as one package and draw offers of $150 million to $200 million. The property is less than a half mile from the proposed Skyplex complex.

After the Skyplex project's rezoning application was approved by BCC on Tuesday night, county commissioners Peter Clarke and Ted Edwards confirmed GrowthSpotter's earlier report that they were called on Friday and Sunday, respectively, by Universal's McReynolds, who said Universal had a contract to buy the Colony property.

With a clear history and title work prepared on the 19 parcels, sale of the 474-acre package could close within 30 days.

Clarke said he was asked by McReynolds to restart the I-Drive Vision Plan process to include any plans Universal may have for much of those 474 acres that lie east of Universal Boulevard. Edwards said that McReynolds told him "this would be a quick closing" on the Colony Capital package, and that Universal was frustrated it wasn't given a seat at the table for the I-Drive Vision Plan.

On Wednesday, commissioner Victoria Siplin confirmed for GrowthSpotter that McReynolds called her as well, and made the same claim of having a contract in place for the land package.

A seven-subdistrict future for the tourism corridor faces initial review by County Commissioners on Tuesday. While a battle over height limits for I-Drive attractions has grabbed the most attention, the plan's vision is much bigger than that.

Six sources in Orlando's real estate community told GrowthSpotter on Dec. 1 that Universal Orlando or parent company Comcast told them the company has an option contract in place to buy the 474-acre, 19-parcel package from Colony Capital, with plans to close on the purchase as soon as Wednesday or within the next two weeks, and eventually build a theme park. Those sources requested anonymity, because of the sensitive nature of a large pending land deal.

An option contract offers the option to buy at an agreed upon price and time if certain conditions are met.

Universal officials declined Tuesday to comment on what they deemed a rumor of a pending transaction.

The 474 acres are spread across 19 non-contiguous parcels (17 of which are developable), which range in size from 2.9 acres to 85 acres, with a 340.6-acre cluster involving nine parcels. The land lies along Universal Boulevard and the current and future path of Destination Parkway.

Universal has lobbied for months against the proposed height of Skyplex – a 501-foot roller coaster and tower projected at 700 feet above sea level – but the rezoning approval by Orange County opens the door for Universal or another buyer of the Colony Capital property to build as tall as the eye can see east of Universal Boulevard, multiple sources said Tuesday.

The vast width of Universal Boulevard could allow redesign of the thoroughfare to include features like on-street parking that are not possible on the more narrow International Drive.

Universal's play for the Colony Capital package would throw a wrench into the public plans of Chuck Whittall and Unicorp for their own bid on some or all of that property. At the minimum, Whittall has included a 17-acre parcel from that package in his early-stage master plan for redeveloping more than 76 acres in the I-Drive Entertainment District over the next five to 10 years.

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