From Millenial-Friendly Developments to Business Changes
by Debra Wood
Changes are underway on International Drive, the tourist corridor in Southwest Orlando. On a positive note, the Orange County Board of County Commissioners approved the I-Drive 2040 Vision Plan zoning. But more disappointing was the closure of Artegon Marketplace, a little more than two years after its debut.
New Zoning for I-Drive
Aiming to develop a shared vision for the International Drive area, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs appointed a Steering Review Group of I-Drive stakeholders committed to keeping the corridor as a global tourism destination. The county commissioners accepted the vision plan in November 2015.
“The vision is highlighting an important district for Orange County,” said Alberto Vargas, manager of the Orange County Planning Division. “It’s a world destination.”
Vargas said the hope is that local residents, who now avoid the area because of traffic, will come and live near there for reasons of convenience. It could become the downtown of Orange County. He explained that millennials are more interested in living in an urban environment and not the suburban setting. They prefer Uber and bike riding to car ownership.
“The code will create predictability, which the development community likes,” Vargas said.
In February, the commissioners approved the I-Drive District Overlay Zone. Different parts of the 3,500-acre International Drive district in Orange County will have eight subdistricts with different zoning going forward.
“The idea behind the International Drive’s new code format is turning it into an urban-form, better scaled for pedestrian environment and equipped for interconnectivity, and, more importantly, more predictability of what happens where,” Vargas said. “That thriving urban environment is almost nonexistent right now.”
New buildings will be built closer to the street. Existing businesses may be in noncompliance but will be allowed to continue operations. Same with helicopter tour businesses. The current ones can stay, but no new ones will be allowed.
The county expects some redevelopment. There are hotel properties currently in planning. When redevelopment occurs or any new construction, businesses will have to build closer to the street. Currently, property in the district is selling for $1 million per acre, and on I-Drive it’s $2 million per acre, according to Vargas.
“Property is almost not available,” Vargas said.
I-Drive is not being widened. County officials analyzed what was failing with traffic and determined it was intersection density, and the need for alternative connector roads and a grid system to move people away from the two major north-south roads: I-Drive and Universal Boulevard. Currently, the district has 17 intersections per square mile, compared to an ideal of 140 intersections per square mile. Transit also will be considered.
“More lanes is not going to allow you to address the traffic issue,” Vargas said. “It’s more options for interconnectivity that is going to solve the problem.”
Artegon Marketplace on International Drive has closed. A few surrounding businesses remain open.
Artegon Marketplace opened in November 2014 at the former Festival Bay Mall and steadily gained tenants and shoppers. In November 2016, the owner, Lightstone Group of New York, put the property up for sale and told tenants “to hold tight.” CBRE of Orlando listed the property as 1-4 acres of improved mixed-use land. An interchange with Interstate 4 is scheduled to open this year near the mall.
However, in January 2017, the owners gave tenants two weeks to get out. Bass Pro Shops Outdoor World Orlando and the Cinemark movie theater remain operational and are independently owned. Lightstone posted a notice on the Artegon website that it was taking the mall in a new direction and discontinuing operations. The 452,192-square-foot shopping center closed Jan. 26.
“What Artegon did to us is devastating,” said Wilmary Moy, owner of Otown Ink Tattoos. “The company came and got us into investing all of our life savings in the store and then did this. We have to stay strong and keep serving the community.”
At this point, Moy is considering her options.
The owners of other stores in the mall are persevering.
Anthony Venturini reopened the R’ n R’ Record Shop at Orlando Crossings, inside the atrium at 5419 International Drive, Suite A. The store has had a presence on I-Drive for 10 years.
“It was important to be where people know me,” Venturini said. “I have customers from different parts of the world come to shop. I didn’t want to give up on those people, and they have followed me.”
Todd Fisher and Ann Young, owners of Gods & Monsters, moved into Orlando Crossings as well, with plans to open a retail store in Longwood. The pair did not want to move far from their regular established customer base of tourists and local residents. Fisher said after two years at Artegon, the store had built up a recognizable international brand.
“They cannot keep us down,” Fisher said. “The writing had been on the wall for a while, but I never expected it at that meeting.”
About 50 merchants attended the meeting with representatives from Lightstone.
“We were all too shocked to do anything,” Fisher said.
Fisher called the forced move “a blessing in disguise” and vowed Gods & Monsters would push forward and make its new location work.
Dave Bowes of Bowes Candles and Jennifer Martinez, owner of Steampunk Garage, moved to the Altamonte Mall on March 1. Michael Phillips of Simply Savory is considering a move to the Oviedo Mall. He also sells his goods at 34 farmers markets.
“The store [at Artegon] was nice, and it worked well for us,” Phillips said.
More Rides Planned for Skyplex
Officials at Orlando Skyplex announced that Sky Jump is being added to their new rides. Guests will free-fall about 500 feet. Others are the Skyscraper roller coaster; SkyFall, a ride with a 450-foot drop; and SkyLedge, in which those who dare will walk around the edge of the complex’s tower. A zip line, surf park and other amenities are also planned for the complex. 💓