OBT Next Plan Rolls Toward Revitalization

The award-winning OBT Next master plan offers a new path to sustained success for a challenged section of Orlando’s Orange Blossom Trail.

The bus traveled through the most troubled ZIP code in Orange County, Florida—but instead of looking out upon Orlando’s Orange Blossom Trail (OBT) and seeing decline, the bus passengers envisioned promise.

WFTV NEWS, Orlando, FL:
OBT Revitalization Strategy Day bus tour & presentation explores the OBT Next plan for community improvement.
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The riders were representatives of nearly 30 organizations—partners and stakeholders in the community’s future—gathered to explore the revitalization opportunities presented in the OBT Next community development master plan.

OBT Next Harnesses the Power of Partnerships

Commissioned by the Orange Blossom Trail Development Board (OBTDB), the OBT Next master plan details a long-term strategy for building a better future along an 8-mile stretch of the OBT that for years has been marked by crime and decline. OBT Next began to take form in 2016 when OBTDB Executive Director Vanessa Pinkney secured a $500k grant for the plan’s development from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The plan has earned the support of residents, business, law enforcement, and local organizations as well as government partners including the City of Orlando, Florida’s Orange County, Florida House of Representatives member Bruce Antone, U.S. Representative Val Demings of Florida, and U.S. Senator Bill Nelson of Florida. The City of Orlando’s Municipal Planning Board recommended approval of the plan in April 2018—and with Senator Nelson’s backing, the OBTDB will seek funding to advance the plan from federal agencies including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, the Department of Transportation, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Small Business Administration.

“The strong community and government partnerships that have grown throughout the plan’s development have been invaluable in defining a pathway toward effectively reducing crime, strengthening existing residential neighborhoods and businesses, and cultivating self-sustaining economic opportunities that will help OBT Next realize long-term success,” said Claudia Ray, Urban Designer with GAI Consultant’s Community Solutions Group (CSG), which was commissioned by the OBTDB to develop the OBT Next master plan. “The bus tour along the OBT corridor was an opportunity to gather together partners from all levels and illustrate what the master plan hopes to accomplish at the specific locations where the proposed work will take place.”

Touring OBT Next Opportunities

A standout component of the OBT Next master plan seeks to establish five distinctive districts along the length of study area, the makeup of each district based on an understanding of existing residents, businesses, jobs, services, and structures. The bus tour helped participants visualize how the districts would work to transform the character of the OBT.

“Today, the corridor is a single, long expanse with little personality,” said Thomas Kohler, Senior Director with GAI’s CSG, who guided the bus tour and is principal-in-charge of GAI’s OBT Next master plan project. “However, OBT’s available real estate and its proximity to both downtown and the Orlando International Airport hold great promise for a wide range of businesses and services. The OBT Next plan envisions the unique signature districts as ways to improve the route’s appeal and the quality of life for area residents while attracting needed investment and development.”

The bus tour visited proposed sites for signature OBT districts including:

West Orlando: Sports and Entertainment District
Current location of the recently upgraded, 65,000-seat Camping World Stadium and connected to other sports venues along the Church Street corridor, OBT’s West Orlando district is positioned to become a hub for sports and entertainment uses supported by quality food and beverage businesses.

Proposed enhancements to the West Orlando district include:

  • A multi-million dollar reconstruction of Lorna Doone Park in partnership with the City of Orlando, Orange County, and Florida Citrus Sports
  • Redevelopment opportunities along Nashville Street and at the Parliament House Hotel and nightclub site
  • Improvements to Washington Street as a key east/west multi-modal connector to downtown

Additional partners devoting resources to the district include the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT), LYNX, and private-sector organizations.

GAI & Partners Win Awards for OBT Next Master Plan

The work of the GAI Community Solutions Group, the Orange Blossom Trail Development Board, the City of Orlando, and Orange County on the OBT Next Master plan has won the Florida Planning and Zoning Association (FPZA) 2018 Outstanding Plan/Study Award and the American Planning Association Florida Chapter (APA Florida) 2018 Award of Merit, Neighborhood Planning.

FPZA 2018 Outstanding Plan/Study Award
Accepting the FPZA 2018 Outstanding Plan/Study Award, l-r: Laura Smith, GAI-CSG; Patrick Panza, GAI-CSG; Jason Reynolds, Orange County; Jason Burton, City of Orlando; Claudia Ray, GAI-CSG; Vanessa Pinkney, OBTDB; Emmett O’Dell, OBTDB; Helen LaValley, FPZA; Thomas Kohler, GAI-CSG; Kristin Caborn GAI-CSG

Holden Heights: Design, Construction, and Education Hub
With 26 percent of existing area jobs related to construction and featuring a wide variety of building types, the vision for Holden Heights enhances the district’s residential neighborhoods and seeks to attract higher education institutions and businesses related to design, construction, and other comparable industries that provide long-term employment opportunities.

Improvements in Holden Heights include:

  • Extensive investment by LIFT Orlando in the 200+ unit Pendana at West Lakes housing complex, in partnership with the City of Orlando, Orange County Public Schools, the Boys & Girls Clubs of Central Florida, and local hospitals
  • Complete redevelopment of the historic Grand Avenue School and adjacent park to support youth and family programs
  • Development of “Makers Row,” a mixed-use opportunity on a publicly-owned, repurposed industrial site
  • Enhancements to the Lake June area
  • Reconstruction and infrastructure improvements to several area residential streets
  • Additional focus for the area includes rehabilitation of the existing housing stock and leveraging infill development opportunities on vacant publicly-owned single-family lots.

Partners in these initiatives include the OBT Development Board, Orange County, the City of Orlando, and several private-sector and non-profit organizations.

Additional proposed signature OBT districts include:

Holden: Authentic Food District
Home to an array of restaurants serving a variety of ethnic cuisines and surrounded by neighborhoods, the Holden district is the ideal section of the corridor for establishing a ‘Main Street’ destination for authentic foods supported by other office and service uses.

Americana: Auto and Services Hub
With large parcels along the main corridor, the Americana district can support a hub for all of OTB’s auto-related sales and services.

Lake Ellenor: Education and Jobs District
The vision for OBT’s Lake Ellenor district is to maintain and enhance its regional significance as a destination for the employment, retail sales, and continuing-education opportunities.

Promise for OBT’s Future

In the 1950s and 60s, the OBT was a prime destination for locals and tourists, filled with hotels, restaurants, and thriving businesses. The OBT Next master plan lays out a path for moving beyond the area’s more recent decline to establish a bright, sustainable future. With the help of powerful, committed partners and a clear, comprehensive framework for revitalization and continued growth, the OBT can now envision its next period of prosperity and promise.

Contact Senior Director Thomas Kohler, 321.319.3133, or Urban Designer Claudia Ray, 321.445.8040, for more information about the OBT Next project and GAI Community Solutions Group’s urban design and planning, landscape architecture, and economics and strategy services.


Tom KohlerThomas Kohler has extensive experience in strategic planning and public policy, project implementation strategies, and public/private negotiations. Tom serves a number of communities as advisor on tax increment financing, strategic economic planning, incentive policies, and implementation programming. With some 26 years of experience in public service, Tom was an integral part of almost every major development project in the City of Orlando, FL through 2001.

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