Don’t count Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs out quite yet, she told the International Drive Resort Area Chamber of Commerce Thursday, pledging to push ahead in her last year on long-term planning for the district and support for Orange County Convention Center expansion.
Jacobs, whose term limits expire at the end of 2018, was honored Thursday as “Visionary of the Year by the chamber at its 30th-anniversary celebratory luncheon at the convention center. The award came for her push, during her eight years, for a plan begun by her predecessor Mayor Rich Crotty to turn the I-Drive district into a second downtown area, and turned it into a plan focusing on the year 2040, with full sidewalks, street life and residences in addition to the towering hotels, attractions, restaurants and shops that cater to tourists.
“I’m not done yet by the way,” she said. “I have just over twelve months left to do and we’re going to get back to work in a minute.”
That may start with a push for the next major expansion of the convention center, already the second-largest in the country. The I-Drive chamber, the convention center board and others have pushed for a $500 million, 800,000-square-foot expansion that likely will be the next big controversy in Orange County politics.
“The convention center has been such an important priority. We have too many jobs, we have too much economic impact relying upon our convention center, and you have invested too much in I-Drive,” Jacobs said. “And the convention center is really the heart of this area.”
She did not explicitly commit to the expansion, but added that in the next 12 months there was a lot of work to be done.
Chamber President Maria Triscari and Chairman John Stine described dramatic growth and change in the 11-mile corridor that started as a hotel and restaurant strip between SeaWorld and Universal Orlando and then grew into a tourism destination area all its own. Today it has 125 hotels and 4,500 hotel rooms, 40 percent of the rooms in the Orlando market, 350 restaurants, and 900 retail outlets, and 23 attractions of its own, from the Fun Spot America amusement park to the Coca-Cola Orlando Eye 400-foot-tall ferris wheel.
“The transformation of I-Drive in the last few years has made our destination fresh and exciting,” Triscari said. “It’s official, the International Drive resort area is a destination. And we’ve only just begun.”
Jacobs’ I-Drive 2040 Strategic Vision plan would build around the convention center, convention hotels, attractions and restaurants already there, with layers of commerce, retail, and housing.
It calls for more complex street grid systems with alleys, access streets, back streets and scores more intersections, urban plazas, public squares, and other downtown features to make it a more walkable community. Public transit also is emphasized.
The proposal covers 5.5 square miles, 3,500 acres, stretching southward from Carrier Drive, following International Drive to Central Florida Parkway, and Universal Boulevard to State Road 528.