Monday, August 27, 2018

Universal looks to add roads, improve connectivity to their still unannounced new resort

Posted By on Mon, Aug 27, 2018 at 10:48 AM

click to enlarge Universal has built a new access road to its expansion properties a few miles southeast of its current theme parks in Central Florida. - PHOTO USED BY PERMISSION OF @BIORECONSTRUCT
  • photo used by permission of @bioreconstruct
  • Universal has built a new access road to its expansion properties a few miles southeast of its current theme parks in Central Florida.

Despite Universal still not confirming a new theme park on their recently acquired property near Lockheed Martin, the company is moving forward with plans to improve access to the property from Sand Lake Road.

Public documents posted by Orange County show that Universal lobbyist John McReynolds has been meeting with the county for over a year now discussing the previously announced plans to extend Kirkman Road through both land that Universal owned at the time and the newly acquired property.

McReynolds has been called “one of the [tourism] industry’s most influential experts and advisers in the realm of government relations” and his regular meetings with Orange County regarding this proposed road extension show just how important this land is for Universal. Over the past two years, McReynolds has been discussing road projects in the tourist district with local leaders, and over the summer Orange County transportation officials met alone with four county attorneys to discuss how to move forward on the Kirkman extension project. The minutes from that meeting, where only officials with Orange County were present, state, “Discussion of potential terms needed for a series of agreements for Kirkman Road Extension with multiple parties and how to address each one. A General Engineering Consultant contract may also be needed.”

The Kirkman Road extension still seems to be slowly moving forward, despite no timeline for the project appearing on the region’s 10-year plan. A second road was initially meant to be extended as well, creating an intersection on what is now the middle of Universal’s South Campus property. That extension was to take Mandarin Drive from Sand Lake Road and connect it to Universal Boulevard at the Via Mercado intersection just south of Icon Orlando 360.



Now there are new plans for the road network surrounding Universal’s South Campus. Universal recently filed permits with the water management district indicating their desire to work with the Florida Department of Transportation to improve a stretch of Sand Lake Road that runs along the northern edge of the newly acquired property. An auxiliary lane will be added along the outside of the eastbound lanes on Sand Lake Road. Two new driveways onto the Universal South Campus property, located at pre-existing intersections, will also be developed along this stretch of road. The Sand Lake Road interchange at Greenbriar Parkway will have additional turn lanes added both northbound (eastbound Sand Lake Road to the existing Greenbriar Parkway) and southbound (Sand Lake Road turning onto Universal’s property). At Mandarin Drive, new southbound turn lanes will be added to allow for access to the Universal property. It’s unclear if this new entrance at the intersection of Mandarin will eventually become part of the Mandarin Drive extension. A retention pond on Universal’s South Campus property is also being slightly reworked.

Universal has confirmed plans for warehouses and office buildings along a nearby stretch of Sand Lake Road, but plans for most of the land are still a mystery. It’s no secret that Universal has plans for another theme park in the Orlando market. In court documents that were obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, lawyers for Universal acknowledged the rumors of the new theme park, calling the project, in what is thought to be a joking manner, “super, super secret.” In the company’s most recent quarterly earnings report, officials acknowledged the desire for another park in the market, pointing to research that shows it would have a positive impact on Universal Orlando’s numerous hotels.

Surprisingly, the new permits don’t show any details on the Kirkman extension, instead providing the two proposed driveways just east of the location where the Kirkman extension is intended to go. Both of the new entrance driveways look to be permanent, and both will be highly visible, possibly indicating they'll be the primary entrance area for the South Campus. Previously, it was thought that the Kirkman extension would be the signature entrance for the new campus. That still could be possible with these entrances serving as secondary or employee entrances to the property.
The auxiliary lane could serve many purposes, including allowing a lane for special vehicles accessing the Universal property, such as shuttle buses or construction vehicles. Large-scale construction on the property has already been confirmed, with Universal moving forward on building a set of temporary parking lots. Combined the two lots have more than 2,400 spaces, and according to permits the lots are for “parking employees, contractors, subcontractors, etc. related to ongoing development on other property owned by the applicant.”

Universal currently has a few major construction projects going, including the 2,800-room two-phase Endless Summer Resort now under construction on the former Wet ‘n Wild property. But with that project well underway already, the need for 2,400 extra parking spaces for workers seems questionable.

That has led some to speculate that the new temporary parking area is for construction workers for the new hotels and park on the South Campus. But the parking lots are located on the south side of the massive chunk of land while Sand Lake Road is on the north side of it. The north entrances could be where delivery trucks enter the property, using the auxiliary lanes to line up without affecting traffic on Sand Lake Road, while workers enter from the southern side.

It is clear Universal is working on building easier access to the new property and building support areas for the coming construction on that property but, despite all the rumors, there is a lot regarding Universal’s plans that we still don’t know. With an ever-increasing amount of work happening on and around the new South Campus, it seems inevitable that Universal, who is spending a lot of money on their mystery project, will very soon be forced to announce their plans. Until then the breadcrumb trail of permits and lobbyist meetings continues.

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