An International Drive development concept hashed out with Orange County planners over the past few months offers a first glimpse of the live-work-play concept Mayor Teresa Jacobs has pushed for the area that many refer to as the county’s “downtown.”

The concept, from a developer called Destination Shoppes LLC, started last summer as a 7-Eleven gas station and a few other routine, out-parcel, commercial buildings on some vacant land near one of the region’s key intersections, Universal Boulevard and Destination Parkway.

It was precisely the kind of suburban-style development, with small retail buildings behind big parking lots, that Orange County is trying to avoid for the area, through its I-Drive 2040 Strategic Vision plan approved last fall.

The negotiated new plan, unveiled Friday at the county’s Convention Plaza District Review Group, would still have the gas station and other commercial buildings, but eventually, they would be part of a much denser development with towering multi-use buildings, small plazas and paths, all crowding the streetscape, creating a walkable urban environment.

The original proposed strip of retail would have had property values of about $17, million while the new, long-term concept for residential housing, commercial, retail, hotel and green could be worth $309 million, said Alberto Vargas, Orange County’s government planning manager.

“The vision is working. It is sending messages to [development] applicants, letting them know that there is a better solution out there,” Vargas said.

The vision calls for the area to develop into a high-density, high-intensity, pedestrian-friendly mix of residential, commercial, retail and tourism. Right now I-Drive has plenty of high-density commercial, retail and tourism, but virtually no housing, and vast swaths of undeveloped land.

This particular development is just conceptual at this point. The original few retail buildings will be built first, but would be made with the expectation of making room for all the rest over the next 10 to 20 years, said Vivien Monaco, an attorney representing the developer.

About The Author

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@flordiapolitics.com or scottmichaelpowers@yahoo.com.

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