Orange County commissioners have approved the creation of a new special taxing district around Universal Orlando’s forthcoming Epic Universe theme park, which could assist in funding an expansion of the SunRail system to the International Drive tourist corridor.
The new 719-acre district, called the Shingle Creek Transit & Utility Community Development District, is more limited than the governmental district covering Walt Disney World. It would levy taxes from its two landowners — Universal and Hilton — and approve bonds to provide extra funding transportation infrastructure.
The estimated $174 million the district would raise could fund the Sunshine Corridor project, expanding SunRail service between the Orlando International Airport and a to-be-built station near the Orange County Convention Center.
The connection would serve both the Epic Universe park and I-Drive. Universal has already pledged 13 acres of its land on which the station would be built.
“This is an opportunity for the land owners who want enhanced services in their area that benefits their business and then willing to put the money for it they’re taxing themselves perhaps in a special way,” Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings said to WESH.
However, that SunRail expansion isn’t a certainty even with the new district. According to the Orlando Sentinel, the entire project would cost an estimated $2 billion.
“We think this district will advance county priorities around regional mass transit and public infrastructure,” John Sprouls, chief administrative officer of Universal Destinations and Experiences, told the Sentinel. “We think it’ll meet the needs of both residents and visitors to Central Florida.”
Universal had petitioned for the new district in January, estimating at the time that the rail station could be open by 2030. Epic Universe is scheduled to open by 2025.
If built, the Sunshine Corridor would provide the first rail connection between a major Orlando area theme park and the region’s largest airport.
Visitors could potentially visit from West Palm Beach and Miami without ever needing a car thanks to the recently-opened Brightline rail service between South Florida and Orlando International Airport.