81ºF

I-Drive entrepreneur offers to front costs for pedestrian bridge

Joshua Wallack hopeful he would be paid back by county

photo

ORLANDO, Fla. – Joshua Wallack is investing millions of dollars to develop International Drive's entertainment district, near Sand Lake Road.

[WEB EXTRAS: I-Drive Pedestrian Bridge Funding Options | Visioning process ]

He says the heavy traffic is dangerous for pedestrians.

"It's not the way it should be in a world class city like Orlando," said Wallack, who is set to open Mango's Tropical Café on I-Drive later this year.

Wallack said stats show, from a pedestrian safety standpoint, Orlando is "one of the most dangerous cities in the country."

He wants a massive pedestrian bridge built at I-Drive and Sandlake. Locals visiting I-Drive supported the idea.

"It would help people from getting hurt," one I-Drive visitor said, adding that cars don't pay attention to pedestrians in crosswalks.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs has been working on a visioning plan to improve the I-Drive area and make it appeal more to locals, as well as tourists. Her team has come up with concepts for the bridge Jacobs described as "iconic."

"It would just be awesome. There's no doubt about it, I'm excited about it," Jacobs said. "But, I'm also a realist and know we have to pay for things we build and that's where we'll have to do some real analysis as to what's the benefit, what's the cost, who pays for it, how's it paid for."

That's where Wallack wants to come in.

"We've made a proposal to the county that we will fund the bridge," Wallack said. "We'll move the project along."

That could help jumpstart the project, because Jacobs says she won't have the general taxpayer foot the bill.

"We're not going to ask moms and dads working hard to put kids through school to pay for it," Jacobs said. "So we're going to have to look to that corridor that benefits from it to pay for it. And that's a possibility, because we do certainly raise a lot of tax revenue in that immediate area."

Wallack is hoping that if he can front the money, he will eventually be paid back. Orange County worked a deal out like that with Harris Rosen, who funded a bridge to his property near the convention center.

"Hopefully the public dollars can handle the whole thing, because everyone around here will do so much better," Wallack said. "There'll be more heads and beds ... and revenue collected by the county that it will make this bridge seem like a very small investment."

The Orange County Commission is expected to vote on the committee's plan to improve I-Drive by December. It could be more clear by then how a bridge would be funded, how much it would cost and what priority it will have in the overall I-Drive improvement process.

Wallack hopes construction can begin sometime in 2016.