Orlando projects to invest now

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These downtown Orlando projects have biz leaders optimistic about the future.

Downtown Orlando is coming back to life, and a few ongoing projects and initiatives may help it return even stronger.

Downtown lost a major chunk of its foot traffic with the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, as office workers stayed home and events were few and far between. However, some businesses are returning employees to downtown offices, and the central business district is once again hosting major events, like the Oct. 15 tech summit Synapse Orlando and arts festival Immerse from Oct. 15-17.

As downtown recovers, here’s a look at five ongoing projects and initiatives local leaders in business and government view as key for its future. Of course, a thriving employment and cultural hub downtown is important for a city like Orlando because it generates business for retail and food establishments that serve visitors, and can attract talent and companies from outside of the region.

Here’s what the local leaders had to say during OBJ’s Doing Business in Downtown roundtable on Oct. 21:

Downtown master plan

Development of a master plan for downtown may not sound thrilling, but it will have profound effects for the area, city of Orlando Economic Development Director Brooke Bonnett said. “It sounds so planner-ish. It’s really taking a look at every facet of our downtown, not just the retail spaces but also the pedestrian experiences.”

Points of emphasis for the master plan include making downtown more walkable, examining the conversion of one-way streets to two-way streets, and re-evaluating the Lymmo bus service, Bonnett said. These changes can transform the experience of workers and customers in downtown.

EA studio

People talking in an office

Electronic Arts Inc. will move its Central Florida workforce from Maitland to a new 175,000-square-foot office that’s being completed in the $1.5 billion Creative Village mixed-use complex in downtown. EA employees will work from home until at least Feb. 1, per a companywide policy. However, the Redwood City, California-based video game developer eventually will bring 800 high-wage workers to the central business district.

Bonnett said that’s a game-changer for the city: “The impact of their leadership and involvement in downtown has been great.”

Of course, hundreds of tech employees is just the start. EA previously signaled it may employ as many as 1,000 people at the downtown office by 2025. Another reason EA’s move to downtown is so valuable is its promising growth trajectory, said Craig Ustler, president of Ustler Developer Inc. and head of the master developer entity Creative Village Development LLC. “Talk about companies that have benefited from the pandemic: video game companies.”

FIFA World Cup bid

Orlando is in contention to host some of the 2026 FIFA World Cup games, a potential $800 million prize for Central Florida.

Landing some of the games at Camping World Stadium would be a big deal for the region, which already has built a status as a hub for regional tournaments, bowl games and previous iterations of the NFL Pro Bowl, Ustler said. It also fills a gap in Orlando’s sports scene, as the city lacks as many professional teams as markets like Atlanta and Miami, he said.

“We can have as many sports or more than places that have more professional teams than we do, and corporate relocations like that.”

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