On December 1st, the Orange County Commissioners unanimously approved the rezoning of 11.46 acres to allow the developers to continue moving forward in preparation of the construction of a massive entertainment tower on International Drive in Orlando. More than 50 people voiced their opinions in front of the Mayor and Commissioners, mostly praising and welcoming the new entertainment structure. “I think it’s a great vote of confidence in our region and in tourism and I think it bodes well for the future, ” stated Dr. Sean Snaith, an Economics Professor for UCF.
The constant theme seemed to have been Jobs, Economy, and Growth. Every speaker who owned or managed a business in and around the International Drive area spoke in a welcoming attitude towards the construction of this new attraction. However, not everyone felt this attraction should be welcomed to the already busy streets of International Drive and Sand Lake Road. “We do not need a mini-amusement park on every corner of this town…” said Jeffrey Orins, a resident of the Orlando area, “…nor ddo we need to be a Las Vegas copycat.” Residents worried about the already congested intersection of Sand Lake Road and International Drive. One eager young man spoke about pedestrian safety and cautioned commissioners to consider the amount of possible accidents that may be caused around the new complex.
Universal lobbyist John McReynolds spoke in against the construction in reference to a flyer that was mailed out to all residents within viewing distance of the new tower. He confirmed and corrected the commissioners that the reasoning for their disapproval is not competition, but the community. Another speaker backed this argument stating, “Residents have been supporting the community for all this time, and they deserve to have peace and quiet.” The developer, Joshua Wallack, presented his case with a very informative and entertaining slide show. He stayed professional and even praised Universal Orlando for bringing the community issues to their attention.
Wallack presented his case stating the tower will not exceed 600 feet (this contradicts the previously said flyer stating the tower will be 700 feet high), and the lighting will be strategically placed and dimmed after 2AM to correspond with noise and lighting ordinances already in place. Very strict, but doable, lighting conditions need to be met in order for the construction to continue. This includes no strobe lighting, color changing of the lights need to be gradual and controlled, and that all unnecessary lighting (except for FAA-required and white colored lighting) must be turned off or dimmed by 2AM.
During the final portions of the slide show, Wallack also pointed out some misrepresentations brought to the attention by Universal Studios. They Skyplex will not be seen 30 miles away, it will be the 8th tallest structure in Orlando, the noise and light pollution will meet the required code enforcement, and also threw into the mix a rumor that Universal is under contract to purchase 400 acres of property off of Universal Boulevard, a road that runs parallel to International Drive, for use of a possible 3rd theme park.
Since the project is within District 6, Orange County Commissioner Victoria Siplin is the most involved in the project on the Commissioner Board. She opened up the discussion stating that the biggest concern was about the lighting and noise pollution, but was excited to see all of the businesses joining together and welcoming a new attraction. She ended up voting in favor of the project. The final vote came shortly after 6:30PM where all commissioners, including Mayor Teresa Jacobs, voted unanimously for the approval of the rezoning under the recommended conditions presented to Wallack and his development group.
Now starts the fun part…construction! Originally, the design and development was set to be headed by S&S Corporation, now has moved to the Swiss manufacturer Intamin. Intamin took over the project and added a different roller coaster layout, along with a Zip Line, and a Drop Tower ride. More rides and attractions are said to be added during the construction. The Skyplex is set to open sometime in 2018.