Universal Orlando and Orange County will build major roads, including the extension of Kirkman Road, in the theme park giant’s expansion territory through a public-private partnership, but the cost of the projects and the bill for local taxpayers hasn’t been calculated.
Very little new information was presented at the first public meeting on the project held Thursday night at the Orange County Convention Center. For the first time, the Florida Department of Transportation displayed a map confirming the proposed route for the project, which has been envisioned for decades but has never gotten to a design phase.
“The project is currently in the preliminary design phase. Neither a timeline nor funding for construction has been identified. Orange County is pursuing grant funding,” according to a joint statement about the project released by the county and the Florida Department of Transportation.
A new public hearing was announced for 5 p.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 18, in the same place — the convention center’s West Concourse Room W315, 9800 International Drive.
According to the DOT, the Kirkman Road Extension will provide another north-south corridor for the busy tourism area and is also part of Orange County’s 10-year, long range plan.
The county, the DOT and Universal’s lobbyists have been meeting for at least a year to discuss the issues, but the state is only saying at this point that “funding sources are subject to partnership agreements that are in the process of being defined. Orange County always contemplated the Kirkman Road Extension to be a public/private partnership and its participation is being addressed in the coming weeks.”
Universal lobbyist John McReynolds and spokesman Tom Shroeder were at the meeting Thursday but declined to comment on the road plan or Universal’s bigger plans for the property.
Universal’s long-range plans also call for increased connectivity, since any future development in this immediate area by Universal, or others, could impact traffic flow in this active and busy region of Orange County, according to the joint statement.
Universal has acquired more than 1,000 acres for expansion in the area — property which it had sold off years ago. Speculation has been rampant that the new park could carry Nintendo or Dreamworks themes, like Mario Bros., Legends of Zelda or Shrek. That would be in addition to Universal’s current parks in Orlando: Universal Studios, Islands of Adventure and Volcano Bay water park.
Once built, the new theme park would put Universal in a more competitive position with Walt Disney World. That’s because Universal would be more able to keep people in its parks for extended stays or long weekends, which is something Disney has been doing for decades in Orlando, especially since it added Animal Kingdom in 1998.
But getting people from the existing Universal theme parks to the new expansion territory could pose a challenge, and the extension of Kirkman Road is part of that problem.
Technically, the extension of Kirkman will run from Carrier Drive on the north, down to Universal Boulevard at the south end — wrapping around the east side of the Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control Plant.
The theme park giant has started rolling out plans for its new property, including 530,000 square feet of warehouse space and 94,000 square feet of office space along Sand Lake Road, just east of Lockheed.
Universal hasn’t provided any further comment on its plans. The office and warehouse construction could be to move existing offices and storage, freeing up land around Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure. Or it could be to support the new theme park that would be just south of there.