- The Orange County Board of Commissioners this week unanimously approved the creation of a special district called the Shingle Creek Transit and Utility Community Development District (SCTUCDD) for Universal Orlando’s new Epic Universe theme park.
- The district covers over 700 acres and will have a five-person board responsible for financing, construction, and infrastructure improvements.
- The district will levy taxes on entities within its boundaries and aims to also serve as a transportation hub, including the construction of a $126 million ‘Sunshine Corridor’ commuter rail connecting Orlando International Airport and the International Drive tourism area.
- Epic Universe is expected to open in summer 2025 and will be Universal’s largest park in the nation. The authorization comes as Disney lost its special district status due to a dispute with the state of Florida.
The Orange County Board of Commissioners on Tuesday unanimously approved a motion to grant Universal Orlando, owned by Comcast, a special district encompassing its new Epic Universe theme park.
The district, called the Shingle Creek Transit and Utility Community Development District (SCTUCDD), is established following a joint petition between Universal Orlando and Orlando’s Right Rail coalition.
SCTUCDD holds a total area of more than 700 acres and will operate as an independent government presiding over the new theme park. The five-person board overseeing the district will be responsible for financing, construction, and public infrastructure improvements. The district will also levy taxes on entities within the district, though its land will not be used for residential purposes.
The district also aims to serve as a transportation hub, facilitating the capacity to transport 100,000 residents and visitors to the area. Petitioner plans include a $126 million ‘Sunshine Corridor’ commuter rail linking Orlando International Airport and the International Drive tourism area near the new theme park.
“We think this district will advance county priorities around regional mass transit, also public infrastructure, and we think it will meet the needs of residents and visitors of Central Florida,” said John Sprowls, who represented the petitioners during the board meeting.
Further, the district plans to invest in odor control improvements at Orange County’s south water reclamation facility, a $40 million project, and $8 million in Epic Boulevard transportation improvements.
In receiving special district status, the designation provides developers with a mechanism to fund certain infrastructure initiatives via tax-exempt bonds and impose special assessments on property, issue bonds, and manage services. Under the agreement and pursuant to state statute, SCTUCDD will not be permitted to adopt its own comprehensive plan, building code, or land development code, nor can it act as a zoning authority.
Epic Universe, an estimated $4 billion project, holds an expected opening date of summer 2025, delayed from the original 2023 opening due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It will serve as Universal’s largest park in the country and the second-largest globally, behind only Universal Studios Beijing.
The special district is granted as the State of Florida and Disney are engaged in a perpetual back-and-forth legal affair after Gov. Ron DeSantis revoked the entertainment giant’s own special district status earlier this year.
Legislative action stripped Disney of control over Reedy Creek Improvement District, now known as the Central Florida Tourism Oversight District, and granted the governor the right to appoint members to the Board of Supervisors.
“We made a decision to go in a different direction with respect to how Disney is governed,” said DeSantis in February. “Since the 1960s they’ve enjoyed privileges unlike any company or individual in the state of Florida has ever enjoyed. They had exemptions from laws that everyone else had to follow, and they were able to get huge amounts of benefits without paying their fair share of taxes. They even racked up $700 million worth of municipal debt.”
DeSantis set his sights on Reedy Creek last year after Disney publicly opposed a law that restricts instruction about gender identity and sexual orientation in schools.
As a result, House lawmakers passed a bill (SB 4-C) to officially eliminate the special district that allows Disney to self-govern its Orlando-area theme park but gave until June of this year for lawmakers to make needed changes.
Amid the controversy, Disney pledged to halt political campaign donations in Florida, a reverberating decision felt by both major parties. Financial reports show that the corporation contributed nearly $5 million dollars to candidates during the 2020 election cycle, with $913,000 going directly to the Republican Party of Florida. Disney also gave $313,000 to the state’s Democratic Party and another $50,000 directly to DeSantis’ campaign.