By Maria Triscari
The International Drive Resort Area is marking its 50th anniversary this year, and there is a lot to celebrate.
The I-Drive corridor is home to more than 130 hotels, six major theme parks, 35 family-friendly attractions, 350 restaurants, 900 retail outlets and the world-renowned Orange County Convention Center.
The I-Drive resort area is an important part of what makes Orlando one of the most successful tourist destinations in the country, welcoming millions of visitors each year. The area is also home to more than 20,000 residents and 75,000 employees.
In the past 50 years, the I-Drive corridor has grown into a major economic engine. It is responsible for more than $2 billion in new and planned development, and it represents 10% of Orange County’s tax base.
One of the reasons for the area’s tremendous success is that it continues to grow, evolve and transform itself with new developments and attractions, giving visitors a reason to keep coming back again and again.
In just the last several years, major developments have transformed the I-Drive corridor into an even more exciting destination. The Mercado shopping and dining district that was a part of the original south I-Drive is now ICON Park, a $300 million new development with popular restaurants, shops and attractions. Friday’s Front Row is now Mango’s and Hollywood Plaza. Pointe Orlando has transformed with a $32 million renovation and includes new restaurants, shops and attractions. And the original Orange County Civic Center is now the Orange County Convention Center, one of the largest and most significant event venues in the country.
As I-Drive celebrates the success of the last 50 years, it’s the next 50 years that are the most exciting. The I-Drive chamber has identified four major projects and initiaves that will bring the area to a new level of excellence on the world stage in the coming decades.
Mass transportation from Orlando International Airport to I-Drive will be a game changer for the resort area. A much-needed mode of transportation that is being studied right now will provide another leg to SunRail and expand Central Florida’s mass transit system, providing local residents and visitors a source of transportation throughout Central Florida.
The chamber’s transportation and infrastructure committee has been working closely with city and county leaders as well as the CFX and SunRail boards to help facilitate this important transportation initiative. The goal of the committee is to create a station at I-Drive for mass transit to service the I-Drive corridor, its residents and the millions of visitors each year.
The enhancement project at the Orange County Convention Center is also a priority for the chamber as it looks to the future. The convention center is a major economic engine for the corridor, hosting millions of travelers for business trade shows and other kinds of events. It is also Orange County’s largest asset. The enhancement of the convention center that was put on hold because of the pandemic includes the completion of the North-South Building as well as the addition of a multipurpose venue.
The addition of these projects will help the convention center maintain its status as a leader in a very competitive market. The return on investment is substantial, providing the community in 2019 a $3 billion economic impact with more than 29,300 individuals employed by the activity generated at the convention center and more than 1,200 businesses positively impacted by the activity generated at the trade shows.
EPIC Universe, Universal’s newest theme park, is currently being constructed in the I-Drive corridor. It is set to open in the summer of 2025, bringing theme parks to a whole new level with state-of-the-art interactions and experiences and giving visitors another reason to come back and enjoy all that I-Drive has to offer. EPIC Universe will also provide 14,000 new jobs in the Orlando market.
Additionally, Universal’s Housing for Tomorrow project will provide 1,000 state-of- the-art apartment homes, bringing affordable housing to a whole new level.
In fact, the I-Drive resort area has become a mecca for Central Florida residents. Known as “Orlando’s Entertainment District,” it is attracting locals who are enjoying staycations and getaways with a number of resorts and family-friendly attractions. And I-Drive is a foodie magnet, offering restaurants for every taste and cuisine. Shopping is also abundant in this exciting corridor, with 900 outlets offering every label and level of shopping, from domestic to international trade.
The I-Drive corridor has become a world-class resort destination, and it has a lot to celebrate.
As Central Florida continues to move beyond COVID-19, one thing is for sure: The tourism industry is resilient. We have been through many challenges in the past, including 9/11, the Great Recession and now a pandemic. And every time, the tourism industry comes back stronger than ever.
All the new and exciting developments along the corridor have given the I-Drive community reason to celebrate as a world-class destination.
So, here’s to celebrating I-Drive’s 50 years of excellence and the next 50 years of spectacular. We are making memories of a lifetime.
MARIA TRISCARI is president/CEO of the International Drive Resort Area Chamber of Commerce.