Orlando inks deal with firm to plan downtown park beneath I-4

The cost of building a long-awaited urban park beneath a multibillion-dollar highway is going up.

Orlando officials signed a contract worth $3 million with AECOM to design the Under-I park, also known as The Bridge District, beneath Interstate 4 in downtown, and also signed off on using another $600,000 to cover additional costs to upgrade water, storm drains and electricity, as well as adding more lighting to the area.

Rising construction costs are partially to blame for the increase, a city spokesperson said.

The park is expected to be an “iconic destination” designed to unite downtown areas east of I-4 with the Amway Center, a planned entertainment district next door and historic Parramore, according to the agenda item.

“This contract will include the vetting and design of immerse technology, art and public gathering space, events space, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and flexible transportation and parking options,” an agenda item reads.

In all, the planning work is expected to take about 18 months from initial drawings to completing the engineering, said Ashley Papagni, a city spokesperson.

Drawings released in October show the inclusion of about 500 parking spaces, lanes for ride-share operators, a bus stop, and artistic lighting and projection spaces beneath I-4. Those contrast with earlier drawings that showed recreational amenities like athletic fields, an exercise track and tennis courts, and no parking options.

At the time, the project manager noted the parking spaces could be closed off to cars to host markets and community events, with the highway overpasses providing shade from the sun or cover from the rain. Highway support beams, the underside of the road and other boards also are expected to be used to display art and other themed experiences throughout the year.

The park is expected to stretch from Washington Street south to Church Street, between Hughey and Garland avenues.

The first three months of engineering work will include studying the ride-sharing needs of downtown nightlife and entertainment businesses. The next nine months will be spent drawing up the park to 30% completion and receiving public feedback, and the final six months will be completing planning.

During a meeting Monday, City Commissioner Jim Gray said the Under-I park could be key to the city’s desire to have more offerings beyond bars and nightclubs downtown.

“We’re spending some significant dollars to do the first steps of design of Under I-4,” he said. “Under I-4 could be a real good, key component to help kickstart what’s going on downtown.”

rygillespie@orlandosentinel.com