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Expressway Authority rolls out transponder that will work on toll roads nationally

The Central Florida Expressway Authority introduced a new transponder Friday that would allow its customers to travel in any of 18 states and pay road and bridge tolls electronically.

The new E-PASS Xtra transponder is an advancement on the authority’s current sticker-chip transponders because it will work throughout much of the eastern United States, not just in Florida and Georgia as current E-PASS transponders do. And, because it is portable, and can be moved from car to car, and even to motorcycles, rather than stick permanently to a windshield as the current unit does.

On the other hand, it is a step back to the deck-of-cards size gadget that the sticker-chips replaced in the past decade.

The new device is available to E-PASS customers for a charge of $18.50 plus tax. It also will offer toll discounts for frequent users. The authority began rolling it out earlier in a soft launch.

It’s a next step toward making the CFX system interoperable with toll road systems nationwide. Last year, CFX adjusted its own tolling equipment so that visitors from 16 other states that use the regional E-Z PASS toll system could drive CFX roads and pay tolls electronically. But that effort did nothing to provide such service for E-PASS customers into those states.

CFX still has to do that. The Moving Ahead for Progress in 21st Century Act, essentially the 2012 federal transportation bill, calls for nationwide interoperability of toll road transponders.

The new transponder is not available for customers of the Florida Turnpike Enterprise’s SunPass system.

However, SunPass and E-PASS already are interoperable on all Turnpike and CFX roads. That, essentially, has created a competition between Florida’s two biggest toll road agencies in signing up customers, since they both can sell systems to pay tolls for each other’s roads, and this new product gives CFX a new competitive advantage in attracting toll road users to their customer base.

“While the goal was to advance interoperability, E-PASS Xtra was designed to create efficiencies by making toll travel easier for the millions who travel to and from Florida each year,” Laura Kelley, CFX executive director stated in a news release. “With E-PASS Xtra, customers can pass through tolling points in 18 states without needing multiple toll transponders. Plus, they get the convenience of having to manage only one prepaid toll account.”

E-PASS Xtra is interoperable with Florida’s SunPass and LeeWay, Georgia PeachPass, North Carolina QuickPass, RiverLink, I-PASS and EZ-PASS. The 18 compatible states include: Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, Virginia, West Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Hampshire, Maine, Ohio, Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky.

The devices are available at the CFX E-PASS Service Center, or on-line at www.EPASSXtra.com.

Jerry Demings getting report with scores of proposals for Orange County

The Orange County mayoral transition team appointed by Mayor-elect Jerry Demings has finished work on its report to him, outlining scores of proposed changes in county government focusing on such things as affordable housing, mass transit, green initiatives and more business culture.

The 60-page draft report was reviewed for a final draft Friday morning at a meeting of Demings transition team. When Demings and the new Orange County Commission are sworn in Dec. 4, Democrats will flip the county from Republican control for the first time in 20 years.

The report gives the first inklings of what new priorities Demings will bring to the office.

The report has some broad recommendations addressing cultures and structural changes for the Orange County government, but also more specific ideas such as hiring a county chief technology officer, establishing an office of sustainability and smart growth, creating a re-entry pilot program for released inmates of the county’s work release center, and exploring dedicated sources of funding for a transporation system.

It also includes a few nods to continuing programs and efforts Demings will inherit from outgoing Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who leaves office Monday after eight years. The report urges Demings to impliment the recommendations of the Regional Affordable Housing Initiave Report she sponsored, her Heroin Task Force (which Demings helped lead), her children’s services initiatives, and to strengthen or enhance, not replace, many of her other programs.

Demings sat in on the 37-member task force’s meetings, though he mostly listened as the co-chairs Linda Chapin, the last Democrat to hold the office he’s taking, and businessman Harold Mills led them.

The latest draft version of the report addresses four broad areas, technology and innovation, consumer services and business development, sustainability and smart growth, and “building a community that works for everyone.”

It paints a picture of a vibrant, rapidly-growing community with a strong jobs market. But it also notes a darker, less-well addressed side. That included references to a county where 43 percent of households are at or below the federal poverty level, a critical affordable housing shortage that has families living in pay-by-the-week motels, little recent progress in areas such as natural lands preservation, and isa business perception that it can be hard to do business with the county government.

A lot of the report discusses changing the cultures, mindsets, and broad strategies at the Orange County Administration Center in downtown Orlando. That includes the culture of doing business with businesses and individuals, addressing a greener and more sustainable county, and developing tighter-knit neighborhoods and transportation systems.

The final pages talk about potential future challenges to be considered now. These include the forecast that the county’s populaiton will grow by 260,000 residents over the next eight years; the number of workers without medical insurance is expected to grow stressing public health clinics; workers are likley to be displaced by technologies; and “without a change in strategy, the current trend of growing inequality could continue.”

“Now is the time for a long-term strategy directing reosurces in ways to build a housing and transportation system that opens doors for families and creates opportunities for entrepreneurs,” states one suggestion in the draft report.

Among other specific points being recommended for Demings’ administration:

– Review the zoning and land-use classifications related to manufacturing, to address the unique needs of evolving technology manufacturing.

– Examine new ways to encourage startups and second-stage companies.

– Create substantial seed capital funds ($100 million or more) to inject capital into Orange County ventures. And invest in local businesses as a first option.

– Partner in a “One Orlando” mission to explore the assets of the region.

– Use crowdsourcing for vision planning.

– Put all development-related divisions under one deputy county administrator.

– Align the county’s sustainability and smart growth plans to emulate the city of Orlando’s plans.

– Expand solar energy capacity toward a goal of supporting 25 percent of county buildings’ energy needs by 2026.

– Encourage alternative transportation by allowing county employees to store their bicycles in all county buildings.

– Strive toward a sustainable food “urban agriculture” environment addressing items ranging from a backyard chicken ordinance to zoning and programs to encourage to innovative and community gardening.

– Establish a “smart growth vision” to update the county’s Comprehensive Plan and Land Development Code.

– Address acquisition of conservation land, including idenifying a funding source.

– Establish a goal of doubling the number of transit trips in Orange County within eight years.

– Develop a dedicated funding source for ehanced transit and road optoins.

– Accelerate inclusionary zoning to allow for more diverse neighborhoods from expensive to moderately-priced housing.

– Create financial mechanisms and development concepts for housing for the “missing middle” of price ranges and sizes.

– Pilot a tele-health program for Orange County’s Primary Care Access Network health centers.

– Establish more open/no charge outpatient mental health and medical clinics.

– Review management of the jail inmate population, focusing on specialized hosuing and maximum bed space with lower-level classifications.

Hand recounts only would involve a few thousand ballots in Central Florida

Orange, Seminole, Lake, and Osceola counties’ anticipated hand recount of ballots for the Florida gubernatorial and Agriculture Commissioner races would only involve a few thousand ballots out of the nearly 1 million cast in those Central Florida counties.

There were 478,122 ballots cast and machine recounted in Orange County for the Nov. 8 election but the vast majority of those already are considered sound and would be set aside as already cleared if manual recounts are ordered. That means just over 3,000 would have to be manually examined in the U.S. Senate election, and fewer than 16,000 in the Agriculture Commissioner contest.

In Seminole County, 200,986 ballots were cast and machine recounted. It looks as if just over 1,500 votes would need another look in the U.S. Senate election, and a little over 7,000 in the Florida Agriculture Commission election.

In Lake County, 156,247 votes were cast and machine recounted. Just over 1,000 votes would be examined in the U.S. Senate election, and just over 4,000 in the Agriculture Commission contest.

In Osceola County, 116,088 votes were cast and machine recounted. Fewer than 1,000 votes would have to be examined in the U.S. Senate election, and fewer than 3,000 in the Agriculture Commission contest.

The governor’s election, should it tighten into hand-recount territory, has similar numbers of votes to be closely examined as those seen in the U.S. Senate election in each county.

The hand recounts only would review ballots with over votes, ballots in which the machines indicated that voters appeared to vote in that contest but not others; or under votes, ballots in which voters appeard to vote in other contests but not that election.

Barring any surprises, those will only be hand counted only in the two elections, for U.S. Senate and the Florida Agriculture Commission. A hand recount is required only if the statewide differences remain below 0.25 percent of the total of 8.2 million votes cast in Florida. The most recent totals showed the U.S. Senate election decided by a difference of about 0.15 percent, and the Agriculture Commissioner by 0.06 percent, while the governor’s race held a well-over-the-threshold 0.41 percent difference.

Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner will make those final determination after the counties are all to have reported their machine recount totals at 3 p.m. Thursday, though a couple of lawsuits might delay that.

County supervisors of elections say they’re ready in Central Florida.

In Orange the U.S. Senate between Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott drew 256 over votes and 2,971 undervotes. In the Agriculture Commission race between Democrat Nikki Fried and Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell, there are 62 over votes and 15,801 under votes in Orange County.

In Seminole, there were 60 over votes and 1,467 undervotes found in the U.S. Senate election and 12 over votes and 7,203 under votes in the Agriculture Commissioner election.

In Lake, there were 36 under votes and 974 over votes in the U.S. Senate election, and 14 over votes and 4,106 under votes in the Agriculture Commissioner election.

In Osceola, there were 42 under votes and 742 over votes in the U.S. Senate election, and nine under votes and 2,931 under votes in the Agriculture Commission election.

Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles intends to start the manual recounts at 8 a.m. Friday.

“I think it will go fairly quickly,” he said. “We’ll have 30 teams. We’ll do it one step at a time and get it done right.”

Lake County Supervisor of Elections Alan Hays said he intends to start manual recounts Thursday night, and if the instructions from the secretary of state allow, he thinks his county might be finished with the U.S. Senate race overnight.

Orange County machine recount finished with no discernible changes

The Orange County vote canvassing board has completed its machine recounts of the 2018 election with very little change in the final tabulations of contested races.

Orange is the first of Florida’s seven big, urban counties — which include Miami-Dade, Broward, Palm Beach, Hillsborough, Pinellas, and Duval — to report the machine-recount numbers. It’s among these counties that Democrats hope to make gains in the U.S. Senate and gubernatorial elections and solidify the lead in the Florida Agricultural Commissioner contest.

Orange County’s recounts showed no discernible difference in any of those races’ counts.

In the end, 478,999 votes were recounted in Orange County, according to the report posted by the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office Thursday morning and on its way to Tallahassee. That’s actually down slightly from the total of 479,122 total reported last week to the Florida Division of Elections, for the pre-recount total.

The results show the striking Democratic lean for Orange County, where the Democrats won by more than 110,000 votes in all three contested statewide races, through the machine recount.

In Orange County, Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson topped Republican Gov. Rick Scott in the U.S. Senate election, 293,828 votes to 180,628. The percentage difference remained unchanged from last week’s count: 61.76 percent for Nelson, 37.97 percent for Scott.

Democratic Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum topped Republican nominee Ron DeSantis in the gubernatorial election, 296,063 to 174,148, via Orange County voters. The percentage difference remained unchanged: 62.22 percent for Gillum, 36.60 for DeSantis.

Democratic nominee Nikki Friedman topped Republican state Rep. Matt Caldwell in the Florida Agriculture Commissioner election, 288,545 Orange County votes to 174,591 for Caldwell. The percentage difference remained unchanged: 62.30 percent for Friedman, 37.70 for Caldwell.

Jerry Demings keeping Orange County mayoral transition plans close to vest

Orange County Mayor-elect Jerry Demings is expecting to start making announcements about his transition no earlier than next week, and, so far, he has been keeping his staffing choices close to his vest while his administration’s core values and agenda still are being openly debated.

Demings won the Mayor’s job in the Aug. 28 election and put together a large transition advisory team in September. He is set to be sworn in on Dec. 4 as the county’s first Democratic Mayor in 20 years. He’ll be joined by the county’s first Democratically controlled Board of County Commissioners in more than 20 years, leading to widespread anticipation of big changes.

But to date Demings has revealed none, not even picks for his top personal staff in the Mayor’s office. And outgoing Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs and some of her inner staff already are packing their belongings this week.

Demings’ transition advisory team has been meeting with the county’s operational staffs and holding public meetings to hash out policy and organizational recommendations for his administration. But while Demings has attended the meetings, he has not indicated his preferences for many specifics yet. The group holds its final meeting Friday and intends to submit its final recommendations to Demings next week.

Jacobs formally leaves office next Monday, though for all practical purposes Friday will be her last day. She was elected Orange County School Board Chair and her first meeting there will be Nov. 26. Orange County Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, whose term is ending on Dec. 4, will serve as Acting Mayor until then.

Demings transitional team’s policy and organizational meetings say as much about what they are pursuing as what they are not.

Demings’ transitional team created four committees: technology and innovation; customer service and business development; building a community that works for everyone; and sustainability and growth.

Their missions, members say, are not to change the world, but to adjust foundations in county government to make higher priorities out of such goals as following Orlando’s lead as a national leader in the sustainable-city movement; making delivery of city services less bureaucratic; and addressing gaping and growing holes in the county’s affordable housing and public transportation landscapes.

Topics excluded from transitional discussions, because Demings said he wanted them reserved for public discussions through the Orange County Commission: growth boundaries for Orange County’s future development, and funding for SunRail, for which the county will soon inherit responsibility.

All of those were top campaign platform priorities not just for Demings but also for his two chief rivals, Pete Clarke and Rob Panepinto, looking like low-hanging fruit. Yet a certain amount of reality also has become apparent in the task force’s discussions thus far: that in many ways Jacobs’ county administration had done at least credible jobs trying to address them, and some problem, such as the county’s downward-spiraling shortage of affordable housing, seem so intractable as to be discouraging.

Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto demand Nancy Pelosi support reform package

Democratic U.S. Reps. Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto didn’t waste any time flexing muscles of their centrist sides, signing a letter Tuesday to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi outlining a number of demands for House rules changes if Pelosi wants their votes for House Speaker.

The two Central Florida lawmakers, members of the bipartisan “Problem Solvers” caucus, joined seven other Democrats in sending a letter to Pelosi stating that they could not support any candidate for House Speaker who does not support the “Break the Gridlock” package the caucus proposed over the summer. They asked Pelosi for written commitments by Friday.

“We believe so strongly in these principals that many of us, this summer, publicly committed only to vote for a candidate for Speaker who embraces the spirit, direction, and specific language of these proposals,” the letter reminds Pelosi.

“Given our rapidly approaching caucus meeting after Thanksgiving, and your familiarity with our proposal, we are eager to have your public commitment to the package of reforms by Friday, Nov. 16,” the letter states.

The 116th Congress convening in January will see the Democrats controlling the House of Representatives. Pelosi is in line to take over as Speaker, provided insurgencies do not derail her bid.

Soto, of Celebration, and Murphy, of Winter Park, are the only Florida members of Congress to sign the letter.

The Break the Gridlock package was first drafted and published in June, includes five goals and 12 specific proposals that would reduce the powers of the Speaker and committee chairs to allow for more power for rank-and-file members of Congress from either party. Hialeah’s Republican U.S. Rep. Carlos Curbelo also signed, but he lost last week and won’t be returning.

The Problem Solvers’ caucus and its Break the Gridlock package probably aren’t Peloisi’s biggest concern in her campaign to be brought back as House Speaker, according to a Washington Post story Tuesday, which  points out she faces a much bigger insurgency among new Democratic lawmakers. On the other hand, neither group is a real issue at the moment, as no other Democratic House member has yet announced a candidacy for Speaker. Pelosi is unopposed for the moment.

Murphy was upfront about her commitment to the Break the Gridlock package during her re-election campaign. When pressed at a debate in October if she would support Pelosi, she replied, no, not unless Pelosi formally backs the package.

The Break the Gridlock package also has been pursued by an affiliated bipartisan political action committeeNo Labels, which spent $153,000 in October to back Murphy’s re-election campaign.

Plastics in Indian River Lagoon oysters have UCF researchers looking closer

It might be from fraying, old, nylon boat ropes. It might be from clothing. It might be from straws and plastic grocery bags. Whatever the sources, a University of Central Florida research team is investigating an alarming – record – level of pastics discovered in oysters in the northern end of the Indian River Lagoon.

The plastic fibers, known as microplastics, first reported by UCF researchers in a paper published last spring, are at levels higher than seen anywhere else in marine invertebrates.

Add the new concern to the unfortunately growing list of environmental alarms being raised throughout Florida’s coastal waters, and particularly in Indian River Lagoon, which already has been hit by high levels of pesticide and septic runoff, red tides, and other algae blooms.

A team from UCF’s Coastal & Estuarine Ecology Lab, led by UCF biologist Linda Walters and run by her graduate student Casey Craig, has launched new research into the Indian River Lagoon this fall to determine if the record levels of microplastics seen in shellfish in Mosquito Lagoon last year was an anomaly or if the problem extends southward to Brevard and beyond.

“We don’t know. This is all conjecture at this point. The big question: Is Mosquito Lagoon a hot-spot for microplastics? And within the year we’ll know. That’s why we’re testing all up and down the entire [Indian River] Lagoon with all our partners,” she said.

The Indian River Lagoon system, running 156 miles from Volusia County through St. Lucie County, is one of the most biodiverse estuaries in North America. But it’s also one of the most-landlocked salt-water systems; it flushes very slowly, meaning there’s not a big flow of fresh seawater coming through; and it’s already sick. Now there are plastics to worry about.

“In the Indian River Lagoon, especially in the Mosquito Lagoon, where we do much of our work … we didn’t realize it until we had all of the data that we were one of the worst places in the world for microplastics in oysters, in shellfish in general,” Walters said.

Her team is doing monthly water sampling at 38 different spots, and oyster sampling quarterly. Both efforts have begun, as of last Sunday.

The UCF research project is being funded by a $99,797 grant from the federal Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program, administered through the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. There also are $36,000 worth of matching in-kind contributions, labor and equipment, from UCF and three partners in the research, the Florida Oceanographic Society, Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Aquatic Preserves Program and the Marine Discovery Center in New Smyrna Beach. The group also is collaborating with Smithsonian Institution researchers in Fort Piece to examine oyster feeding with microplastics. UCF Professor Lei Zhai is also collaborating with the team to determine the chemical identity of plastics found. Zhai is a chemist and director of the UCF NanoScience Technology Center.

At this point, the sources of the microplastics are unknown, but there are alarming clues. But what the researchers are finding are tiny plastic fibers, and they’re often bright yellow or bright blue, suggesting they come from nylon boat ropes. The initial research found an average of 20 microfibers in oysters and four in mud crabs. The plastic fibers also could be showing up in fish and other marine life.

Microplastics have been found everywhere in the ocean systems worldwide, but it’s not just about floating garbage islands in the South China Sea, or reports of dolphins and other marine life dying with bellies full of plastics.

“It comes back home a lot stronger when it’s in something you’re eating, or might want to eat, or something local, so it’s not a developing country problem anymore,” Walters said.

The good news is: generally, oysters are doing better in the lagoon than in the past. They’re making a bit of a comeback.

“Through restoration and just a lot of positive efforts in the Indian River Lagoon, oysters are doing better in a lot of places,” Walters said. “That fight can’t ever stop. As soon as we become complacent, the issues of the past will just become the issues of the future.”

Orange County Commission transition begins

The most dramatic power change Orange County has seen in a generation in county government began Tuesday with jokes, gifts, and tributes to the three outgoing members of the Board of Commissioners and only a slightly uncomfortable air of wonder of what Mayor-elect Jerry Demings and his Democratic-controlled board will bring next month.

In their last meeting as a Republican-controlled board led by outgoing Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Commissioners Rod Love, Pete Clarke, and Jennifer Thompson, all Republicans, stepped down from tenures known for efforts that cut across party lines to include both some of the most fiscally-sound policies any new board could hope to inherit, to commitments to such things as juvenile justice reform, mental health funding, and environmental protection.

In December their replacements will be sworn in, Democrats Demings, Mayra Uribe, and Maribel Cordero, and Republican Christine Moore, flippling the county’s partisan control for the first time in 20 years, from a current 5-2 Republican advantage to a 5-2 Democratic advantage, on what is only officially a nonpartisan board.

But before that transition takes form over the next three weeks, Love, Clarke and Thompson had their day Tuesday. Jacobs’ departure will be marked Friday, as she leaves next Monday to become countywide chair of the Orange County School Board. There will be no commission meetings the next two weeks, though Thompson will stick around at least on paper, in the position of acting mayor.

Love has served for only seven months, having been appointed by Gov. Rick Scott to fill out the rest of this year for Bryan Nelson, who resigned to run for and be elected as mayor of Apopka. Love will be succeeded by Moore in Orange County District 2, serving northwest Orange County.

Jacobs lauded Love for coming in with an agenda to address corrections and juvenile justice reform, and to create empowerment zones to help children in South Apopka, and to find money to transform an adult vocational school in Apopka, and for succeeding.

“It is very rare to have a gubernatorial appointment who comes in to fill someone’s seat for a short period of time who comes in with so much to offer and so much passion to get things done,” Jacobs said.

Clarke served for six years. He resigned midway through his second term to run for Orange County mayor, losing to Demings. He’ll be replaced by Uribe in Orange County District 3, serving south-central Orange County.

Jacobs started by reminding of Clarke’s longtime efforts to address areas such as human trafficking, including creating a first-of-its-kind human trafficking shelter in Orange County. Clarke also was known for overseeing major changes in the county’s mental health services, and for commitments to environmental policy, including sponsoring the county’s fracking ban. But Jacobs pointed to his ability to work on the human side of government services.

“What I value most is the compassion you have for people,” she said. “Whenever we are at an event that involves citizens, Pulse, our LGBT Pride events, anything I can think of, I can always look out into the crowd and know Pete is there.”

Thompson is leaving after two full four-year terms. She’s being succeeded by Cordero in Orange County Distict 4 covering southwest Orange County. Cordero’s election was secured only Monday night, over Thompson’s longtime aide Susan Makowski, with the results of the county’s vote recount in her race.

Thompson always has been the board’s source of tension-cracking humor, as she displayed Tuesday elevating the mayor’s gavel as if it were a championship trophy. Jacobs reminded everyone of her work on issues including from transit, new special-needs playgrounds, and helping the Back to Nature wildlife refuge find a new home.

“Your humor is incredibly important in these serious times but some of the things that I am really proud of here in Orange County, the work on the human issues,” Jacobs said.

Linda Stewart: Calm down and let the elections officers do their work

Railing against what they call a Republican effort to discredit recounts through legal intimidation and allegations of fraud, Democrats state Sen. Linda Stewart, Reps. Carlos Guillermo Smith and state Rep.-elect Anna Eskamani insisted Monday the process just needs to proceed now in calm and confidence.

“Calm down,” Stewart said Monday on the front steps of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections Office, a hundred yards or so where the county’s recounts were underway Monday for Florida’s U.S. Senate, Governor, and Agriculture Commission elections and that of an Orange County Commission district. “Let them do their job and don’t be yelling ‘Fraud!’ because there’s no fraud.”

She, Smith and Eskamani suggested that all the talk in recent days about voter fraud are unfounded bluster, and all the lawsuits potential roadblocks to smooth recounts, and they blamed Republicans, though some of the lawsuits have been brought by Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, whose election contest with Republican Gov. Rick Scott is emerging as the most contentious, with both sides plying the courts.

Stewart also suggested some counties might have trouble meeting vote recount deadlines but should be given the time they need.

“This is a very tedious operation. And it’s being done by professionals who have been doing this for years and years and years. There’s nothing nepharious about it. There’s nothing fraudelent about it. It just takes time,” Stewart said. “All we’re asking for is time and not to interfere with the process and allow it goes forward the way it goes forward, so every vote counts. And that’s all we’re asking for everybody to stand back, calm down and just allow us to move forward and get these votes forward.”

Eskamani renounced the growing level of anger she said she and Smith experienced over the weekend in Broward County.

Smith accused President Donald Trump of trying to intimidate Florida officials to just declare the election over and “declare his buddies the election winners.”

“We will be for protecting the integrity of our electoral system whether we are winning those elections or losing those elections. The integrity of our democracy matters and that is what we are fighting for,” Smith said.

Orange County Convention Center

Orange County Convention Center re-ups deal with Centerplate

Centerplate has been the Orange County Convention Center’s exclusive food-service provider for a decade and based on its performance the Orange County Commission voted in favor of keeping the company around for another decade-plus.

After a lengthy bidding process that saw Centerplate go up against a consortium of food-service companies including one-time contract holder Levy restaurants, the Commission opted to stick with what’s working rather than turn back the clock to 2007. The commission handed down the decision with a resounding 5-1 vote.

Once Centerplate’s contract renewal was in the bag, spox Diana Evans said the Connecticut-based company was “really pleased to be a part of the convention center today and have this opportunity continue into the future.”

It certainly didn’t hurt Centerplate’s chances to have GrayRobinson’s Chris Carmody and Robert Stuart Jr. in their corner — the pair has served as the point men for Centerplate since the 2008 contract battle, which ended up getting the Connecticut-based corp. into the convention center and booting Levy restaurants out of it.

Getting the win took some hard work, though the GrayRobinson duo didn’t exactly have to make that hard of a sell to the Commission.

The food-service provider, which operates in more than 300 venues across the U.S. and the United Kingdom, has been an impeccable steward over the past decade, producing stellar results not only for the convention center, but for theirs and the county’s bottom line.

And those returns exceeded the county’s projections by a country mile.

Concessions sales at the convention center have more than doubled over the past decade despite annual attendance numbers remaining largely flat over the same stretch. In the 2017-18 fiscal year alone, food sales at the convention center spiked to $51.5 million, an increase of $14.6 million year-over-year.

It also doesn’t hurt that convention center customer satisfaction has been through the roof during Centerplate’s time, a metric Levy restaurants erroneously cast doubt on by presenting one anecdotal by one dissatisfied customer out of the thousands served week-to-week.

The new contract will keep Centerplate in place for at least the next four years, and also includes two optional extensions, one for four years and the second for three years. If both are grated, the contract could be in place for a maximum of 11 years.

If the record revenues Centerplate reeled in last fiscal year hold firm, and the company is granted both extensions, the contract could be worth upwards of $550 million.

That doesn’t account for the massive expansion to the convention center that’s in the works. When complete, the Orange County Convention Center could be the largest in the country by square footage, which could bring in more business and, tacitly, provide a massive boost in revenues for Centerplate and the county.

Centerplate is a vendor at more than 300 venues across the United States and the United Kingdom

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