Commissioners award Universal $125 million to help pay for part of road construction

Hundreds of people packed commissioners meeting Tuesday night

GF Default - Residents pack Orange County commission meeting ahead of Universal Orlando-Kirkman Road vote
GF Default - Residents pack Orange County commission meeting ahead of Universal Orlando-Kirkman Road vote

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. – Hundreds of people packed an Orange County commissioners meeting Tuesday to voice concerns about a $125 million deal with Universal Orlando to help expand Kirkman Road to the company’s upcoming theme park.

Orange County commissioners approved the motion for the extension Tuesday evening with a 4-3 vote on the county’s 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 deal has been a hot topic for residents because the $125 million will come out of the Community Redevelopment Area (CRA funds) specifically for the I-Drive corridor, which is 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 such as schools or police departments.

Critics of the deal say it will help a corporation instead of benefiting people who live in the area.

Vanessa Keverenge was one of the hundreds of people who packed the Orange County government chambers. She said she thinks the money should go toward alleviating the affordable housing crisis and helping families.

“How does that benefit people in communities?” Keverenge asked. “It’s going to bring more traffic to their parks, that’s not helping people.”

Several dozen Universal Orlando employees came out in support of the vote Tuesday, wearing theme park T-shirts.

Orange County leaders say the extension deal is a step toward addressing transportation issues, saying the Kirkman Road project has been in county plans for years but it isn’t possible without Universal covering half the costs.

Also on Tuesday, commissioners voted on Orange County Mayor Jerry Deming’s 10-year action plan to build affordable housing. As part of that plan, 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.

Check back for updates on this developing story.

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