Bid packages for site work, steel and foundation on the Skyplex entertainment complex are still expected to go out in December, as developer Joshua Wallack's team is confident the project will be fully approved by Orange's Board of County Commissioners early that month, the project's pre-construction general contractor told GrowthSpotter.
Wallack and his team didn't get the desired recommendation for rezoning approval Thursday from Orange County's Planning and Zoning Commission. Intense lobbying by Universal Orlando, and commentary from a private group representing 20-plus stakeholders on International Drive, led four of the seven commissioners to conclude Skyplex's 582-foot height needed further review.
The P&Z Commission only offers a recommendation to the BCC, which could rule on the Skyplex rezoning on Dec. 1. 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.
Skyplex should need 114,000 cubic yards of concrete for its foundation, tower and elevated slabs, and at least 5,500 tons of steel for its tower, shopping plaza and related structures.
John McNary, project executive for Euforria, a subsidiary of Winter Park Construction that's serving as pre-construction manager on the project, said individual packages for site work and steel, as well as one or more packages for foundation and structural concrete, are now likely to go out in December.
McNary initially forecasted in late June that bid packages for the foundation could be released this Fall. But Skyplex's hearing at P&Z was delayed two months, from August until this Thursday, to accommodate a presentation of the project at one of the monthly I-Drive Vision Plan Steering Committee meetings.
"It's still possible we price things out in December, though now getting the bid packages out is likely first in December," McNary said Thursday.
The concrete bid package could be put out for multiple stages, with one for the basement, pile caps and shallow foundations, he said. Concrete for the property's structures like the parking garage, polercoaster tower and hotel could all be bid out in one or more packages.
Wallack wants his Skyplex parcels to be subject to the Convention Center Plaza Overlay District standards, which have no height restriction. He needs permission for that standard to apply because his property lies outside the overlay district boundary, and would normally face a 50-foot height limit.
Orange County's BCC has previously approved five Planned Developments (PDs) since 2014 to use this Convention Center Plaza Overlay District standard, including one home to the Orlando Eye observation wheel, and others located just south of the Skyplex site.
The four P&Z commissioners who voted not to support the Skyplex rezoning application said that questions remained about if the height of 582 feet from street level (700 feet above sea level) was going to be compatible with height guidelines in the future I-Drive Vision Plan code, which has not been finalized yet.
Alberto Vargas, planning director for Orange County, reminded commissioners that planning staff fully recommended rezoning approval for the Skyplex project. While the I-Drive Vision Plan isn't finished yet, Vargas highlighted that Skyplex will fall within the entertainment-themed Subdistrict 3, and Wallack's designers have already incorporated key elements of the Vision Plan's "complete streets" concept into their design.
Prior to Skyplex's Dec. 1 date on the BCC agenda, Vargas is expected to present a draft of the I-Drive Vision Plan to the BCC on Nov. 3. That will include standards for the various themed subdistricts, with Subdistrict 3 expected to have only a height minimum applied, with no height maximum.
"We have followed that Vision Plan process closely, participating from the beginning of this year, and our project is very consistent with the vision for that subdistrict of I-Drive," said Angel de la Portilla of Central Florida Strategies, Inc., a government relations advisor for Wallack on Skyplex.
"Universal Orlando is adamant about stopping this project. Whatever spin they put on it, the reality is this is a major project just a mile from Wet n' Wild, their property, which after 2016 they're likely to redevelop," he said. "Businesses along I-Drive compete for guests, and they fear Skyplex will be a competitor, so they will do everything they can to stop this project."
Two P&Z commissioners also questioned if Wallack's polercoaster would emit extreme light at night that would be a visual nuisance to residents miles away, which they complained the Orlando Eye wheel does now.
Wallack's team did not have a response prepared for light emittance questions, because lighting on a project typically isn't questioned at the rezoning stage for a project in Orange County. A county attorney was not present at the P&Z meeting to emphasize that fact to the commissioners.
"We are cognizant of that (lighting) concern, and will meet with our design team to discuss it," de la Portilla said. "But you bring in a lighting consultant during permitting, well after a project is approved by BCC."