Perkins+Will to present NeoCity master plan to Osceola commissioners

After 18 months and study and refinement, Perkins+Will  is set to present the NeoCity master plan to Osceola County Commissioners on July 10. 

The 186-page document presents a vision for the nearly 500-acre technology district that is full of color, economic vitality and public activity. It sets the framework for how the district, which is anchored by the Florida Advanced Manufactoring Research Center at BRIDG, should develop in the near-term and over the next several decades.

The county hired the Austin-based firm in 2016 to develop the master plan that includes architectural and design guidelines and recommendations for how to govern, market and administer NeoCity. The plan introduces sensor technology into every aspect of daily life and design. 

"Here burgeoning concepts will gestate into mature technologies, from smart sensors and photonics to software applications and process improvements in science, engineering, and technology," the report reads. "It is envisioned as an innovation epicenter and a source of high quality jobs and as a mixed-use research and technology destination of regional, state, national and global impact."

The plan envisions two scenarios for development: one emphasizing creation of mixed-use and office spaces, while the other focuses on research and light industrial development. 

In the office-heavy scenario, much of the waterfront land is designated for residential, while the entry from Denn John Lane is flanked by mid-rise office towers on both sides. This plan includes entitlements for 7.2 million square feet of office uses and 1.7 million square feet of residential. It is estimated to create 127,700 full time jobs, including 9,400 in research and development and 9,100 in product design. 

The industrial-weighted scheme reduces the residential entitlements by two thirds. This scenario earmarks 2.2 million square feet for industrial uses, as both a scale-up of the sensor project and as large format flex users. This plan creates fewer full-time jobs -- 113,300 (7,300 in R&D and 6,500 in product design.)

At full buildout, NeoCity would generate between $781 million (industrial) and $831 million dollars (office) per year in tax revenue to the county and school board, based on the team's economic model. Under either scenario, the P+W team projects that NeoCity could become the county's largest taxpayer based on total taxable value of the property. 

Planning Director Kerry Godwin said the overall vision and framework has changed little since P+W completed its first draft last summer. But the final version is more clearly defined. 

"They developed a series of maps that takes us through 10-year, 25-year and 50-year buildout," he told GrowthSpotter. "It breaks the district down into individual parcels, but there’s enough flexibility built in so if someone wants 10 acres we can combine them and still make it work."

The master plan identifies numerous parks, greenways and public spaces throughout the district, including a central plaza along the northern shore of the new 188-acre man-made lake. The central plaza includes the signature feature bridge, which could be highlighted with colorful LED lighting applications, and a boardwalk. The plaza also would be home to public pavilion and large event/conference center.

Pocket parks and other public spaces will be designed to inspire interaction and collaboration, incidental meetings and passing greetings. Cafe tables, benches and wooden seating platforms "appeal to the millennial culture."

On the southern side of the district, the plan reserves 10 acres for an urban farm. The P+W team sees it as a bridge to the site's historic past (Judge Farm) and a living laboratory to introduce sensor-based technologies in agricultural research.

The urban farm would support its own farmers' market and provide locally-grown produce to NeoCity restaurants, embracing the "farm to fork" culture.

Since the lake serves as a regional stormwater facility, there is no need for developers in NeoCity to design on-site retention ponds. New buildings and associated parking should occupy and fill entire city blocks. The parking structures are located on the interior of each lot, when possible. If a parking structure is built along the road frontage, it should be distinctive and incorporate retail or other active uses on the ground floor. 

The desire to maintain "active uses" on the ground floor is a recurring theme in the master plan. The plan doesn't limit active space to retail and restaurant uses -- it could also include fitness centers, art galleries, maker spaces and workshops. Ground floor office space is permitted, as long as it has a visual connection to the street.

The colorful NeoCity logo will play heavily in the streetscape and overall branding of the district. Street signs and wayfinding signs will utilize the same logo and palette, and the logo will be incorporated into decorative bike racks, bollard lights and street furniture. The same color palette will be featured using LED light applications, both along the feature bridge, projected onto buildings and in water features.

The plan identifies five primary gateways to the district, with the most important being Denn John Lane. Each gateway will have public art and signature entry features, signs and/or fountains that set them apart while also maintaining the consistent branding message.

Initially, county staff will oversee the marketing and administration of the district and recruiting "low-hanging fruit tenants." P+W recommends the Board of Commissioners create a special NeoCity governing body, a Maintenance District with a seven-member board of supervisors to run the district. The board would include industry representatives as well as county staff or UCF officials.

"NeoCity needs to be led by an executive-level CEO whose focus is solely on moving the NeoCity agenda forward," the team recommends.

The maintenance district would oversee common areas and parking, while the CEO would act as a single point of contact for potential tenants. The Maintenance District would have the authority to select a master developer through an RFQ/RFP process, or the county could choose to "self-develop" -- as it did with the sensor center and first office building. 

But P+W recommends a hybrid arrangement: the "contingent developer" model. Under this process, the district would select developers through the RFP process for specific defined sub-areas within the district. 

"The intent is to have the RFP process out of the way, so that the district can move quickly in response to either A) an inquiry from a major user, or B) to an accumulation of smaller tenants who may together meet the threshold for developing a multi-tenant structure," according to the plan. "The Contingent Developer is selected in advance, and deal terms are established in advance, including establishing financing sources and identifying the trigger threshold that will allow projects to proceed."

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

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