Orange County mayor, Universal Parks announce affordable housing initiative

Jerry Demings announcement comes ahead of controversial road deal vote

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings on Monday announced a new public-private partnership meant to tackle the county’s affordable housing crisis.

The mayor stood alongside Universal Parks executives to announce the initiative, which would increase affordable housing units near Universal Orlando Resort.

Universal Parks and Resorts Executive John Sprouls said the theme park company will make 20 acres of land available to accommodate nearly 1,000 mixed-use housing units.

'I’m thrilled we are going to be able to make this land available for the critical needs of affordable housing," Sprouls said at the news conference on Thursday.

Demings said the initiative is a solution to an issue identified in his Housing for All Task Force. The committee recommended that the county engage the community and tourist industry by developing public-private partnerships. Demings said the theme park company’s vice president of human resources was involved in the task force and suggested using the land to help relieve housing issues in the area.

“I asked them to put on their thinking caps to be able to work with us on that and they did that,” Demings said about working with Universal Orlando executives. “It took time within universal to understand the vision.”

The land is located in Orlando’s tourist district near the I-Drive corridor. The mayor said county officials and Universal will work together to determine how to structure the agreement.

Universal Orlando said the company will also make another 3 acres of land available for mass transit in the growing area.

“We are fairly large corporation with offices and headquarters and there was a number of people I had to convince that this was the right thing to do for this community,” Sprouls said.

The announcement comes ahead of a vote regarding a controversial road deal with Universal Orlando.

Orange County commissioners are expected to vote Tuesday on the county’s separate incentive deal with the theme park in which the county will provide $125 million for the extension of Kirkman Road connecting the theme park company’s 750-acre property, including its future attraction, Epic Universe. Universal Studios also plans on contributing $160 million to the project, which is anticipated to cost $315 million.

The proposed project would route six lanes of traffic from Carrier Road to Universal Boulevard, where Epic Universe is expected to open in 2023.

The $125 million would pay for part of the transportation construction, according to an Orlando Sentinel report. The money the county says will come out of the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA funds) specifically for the I-Drive corridor.

Those funds were collected in taxes from part of the district that includes International Drive. Those taxes go toward road improvements in the tourist district rather than to other tax-funded county responsibilities like schools or police departments.

See breakdown provided by the county:

  • Lump sum payment of $60 million at the end of construction/upon completion (Community Redevelopment Area – CRA funds from I-Drive)
  • Up to $25 million in impact fee credits
  • Up to $40 million (CRA Incentive Funds as a rebate to Universal) also at the end of construction/upon completion in annual payments based on the incremental growth / in taxable property values over the 2019 base year directly attributable to Universal’s property located within the CRA
  • The $60 million CRA plus the $40 million CRA Incentive Funds plus the $25 million impact fee credit equals $125 million.

[RELATED: Orange County mayor won’t support extending tourist tax agreement]

The current agreement with the county would extend this taxing practice until 2040. It was set to expire in 2028.

Demings said Friday that he would vote against extending the taxing end date. He said he’s asked the commission to re-examine the end date on the taxing district agreement, he said they plan to strike that language out for now and that will not be part of the decision-making process during the vote on Tuesday.

“I do believe the current I-Drive CRA, when it was approved decades ago, it was approved exclusively for transit or transportation needs in that area,” Demings said. “I do believe that’s a conversation the Board of County Commissioners can have going forward.”

Demings said he believes going forward that they could use the CRA money to not only go to transportation alone, but also to pay for affordable housing.

However, Tuesday’s vote will focus on giving the $125 million for the Kirkman Road extension project, which is expected to bring in protesters.

The road-extension portion of the proposal has been met with push back from the community as nearby residents have erected signs saying, “Tax Universal. Don’t Tax Us.”

Officials with the mayor’s office said Demings supports the road extension itself and that it is expected to pass.

About the Authors: