On the other side of Interstate 4 from downtown Orlando, the new $480-million home for the Orlando Magic is quickly heading toward an October tip-off, a symbolic sign of construction life.
Back across I-4, a recently completed high-rise condominium sits mostly empty.
Those two buildings provide a collective snapshot of the Orlando construction market’s current up-and-down situation. Some exciting things are happening, but there’s no escaping the present-day dour economy.
With condominiums, office space and even hotel rooms standing vacant, and more than 12,000 construction jobs lost, Orlando has felt the sting of the recession. At the same time, the Central Florida region has some reasons for long-term optimism: A burgeoning biomedical cluster is proving to be a development hot spot, two major rail projects are progressing down their respective tracks and theme parks are once again building and expanding.
“In Florida, Central Florida is the place to be,” Sean DeMartino, senior vice president of Balfour Beatty Construction in Orlando, said at a recent meeting of the Central Florida chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors in Orlando. “We have a huge opportunity to attract growth.”
Balfour Beatty has grabbed a few pieces of Orlando’s momentum for itself. The firm expects to start the $250-million first phase of the Dr. P. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts later this year. The contractor is currently building the $254-million expansion of the Peabody Orlando, which includes a 690,000-sq-ft, 35-story hotel tower and 450,000 sq ft of new convention center space.
Balfour Beatty is also working on the $17-million first phase of the University of Central Florida’s Arts Complex II, designed by HKS Architects of Orlando.
“We’ve been fortunate in Orlando,” says Melanie Cornell, a principal with Dallas-based HKS, who cites continued work with higher education, health care, hospitality and government projects. HKS is designing an athletic administration building for UCF.
Scott Skidelsky, vice president and general manager of Turner Construction Co.’s Orlando office, which is program manager for the Amway Center, reports that 2009 was one of the Orlando office’s best years ever. “The sustaining markets are education, interior renovation and government work,” Skidelsky says.
And Steve Rivers, senior vice president and general manager of Hardin Construction’s Orlando office, says, “There are ideas, sites, requests for qualifications and requests for proposals coming out, but it’s not near the activity as several years ago.”
Rivers adds that projects put on the shelf in 2008 are starting to come back. Hardin expects to begin this year a $200-million project at Walt Disney World and a $50-million Embassy Suites hotel at Lake Buena Vista. And the company is working on the Royal Floridian South timeshare development, also on the East Coast.
Rivers says the big companies with money to pay for construction—not knowing what the future will hold in the way of material escalation—are now saying it’s time to build. “They are seeing the first half of 2010 [as time] to...