(February 2020) – When Golf Channel was formed in 1995 in an office park near International Drive, the Orlando Magic were headed to the playoffs as the top team in the NBA Atlantic Division with a 57-25 record. Brian Hill was the coach, and the player roster included Shaquille O’Neal, Penny Hardaway, Horace Grant, Nick Anderson and Dennis Scott, as well as Jeff Turner, who became the Magic’s color commentator on Fox Sports Florida. It was the Magic’s sixth season, and the team’s owner, the late Rich DeVos, famously said at the time, “Why not us? Why not now?”
Orlando had just hosted the 1994 FIFA World Cup soccer games, bringing in fans from all over the world, and today Central Florida is being considered as a venue for 2026. The annual PGA golf tournament at Bay Hill, now known as the Arnold Palmer Invitational, was preparing to celebrate its 30th year in 1996.
Orlando was all about sports at the time, but it was also all about community pride and growth, with construction cranes popping up in all corners of the greater metro area. I thought a trip down memory lane would be fun for this issue on Construction and Commercial Real Estate.
In 1995, the Magic played at the Amway O-Rena on property that is now the location of the new shared downtown campus of the University of Central Florida and Valencia College. The team started talking about the need for a larger facility, and today the Amway Center, which turns 10 this year, is one of the most technologically advanced in the nation.
Universal Studios Florida had been open for five years and was starting construction on a $2.6 billion expansion that would include a second theme park called Islands of Adventure, as well as Universal CityWalk and three luxury hotels. Today Universal is planning a third theme park.
Nearby, the International Drive Master Transit and Improvement District had been created in 1992 as a public-private initiative that represented businesses in the I-Drive resort area. It was busy in 1995, although it would be 20 years before a massive Ferris wheel now known as ICON Orlando would dramatically change the district’s landscape. The Orange County Convention Center was under expansion with projects that would grow its exhibit space to more than 1 million square feet. Plans in the works today will expand the complex to more than 2.3 million square feet.
In 1995, Orange County had just approved Horizon West as a master planned community with five mixed-use villages and a town center. The development would help accommodate a growing Central Florida population that was more than 1.2 million at the time. Today’s estimated population for Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties is almost 2.6 million and increasing by about 1,000 a week.
When golf legend Arnold Palmer and his business partner, entrepreneur Joe Gibbs, took a chance on starting a 24-hour network about golf in a region known for sunshine and tourism instead of broadcasting, they began with a handful of dedicated employees. Today Golf Channel employs about 1,000. Its original office has expanded across roads and parking lots into other buildings. And like Orlando, it shows no signs of slowing down.
Publisher Cherise Czaban and I toured the Golf Channel facilities in November with Dan Higgins, Golf Channel’s communications editor. We were fortunate to bump into Gibbs, who was visiting with staffers and checking out the latest innovations in video equipment. He seemed pleased to see that his original vision for the company is still very much alive. Maybe it has even gone beyond his wildest expectations.
I believe the same could be said for Orlando. Who would have thought in 1995 we’d be where we are today?
Have a great month!