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Orlando poised for 2nd surge

The Orlando boom will take on new life after the recession as the city's southern corridor grows into one of the strongest commercial zones in the nation, an economic forecaster predicted Friday.

A highway connection between Walt Disney World and the airport will please tourists but also encourage an explosion in cargo traffic and distribution centers, said Jon DeVries, senior vice president of Goodkin Research Corp.

Meanwhile, Disney's plans to build 8,500 housing units, a shopping mall and a sprawling office-industrial park in Osceola County will make the entertainment giant one of Florida's major developers, he said.

"Orlando is going to emerge out of this recession probably the strongest out of any of the Florida markets," said DeVries, whose company specializes in Florida real estate forecasting.

Orlando attracted national attention in the 1980s by transforming itself from a quiet, pine-studded community into the nation's biggest tourist destination.

Disney went on a building binge that added 10,000 hotel rooms, and the Orange County population grew 44 percent in the 1980s to 677,000.

Florida cities "won't get back to the hyper-boom levels of the '80s," but Orlando will come closest with a recovery to 85 percent compared to a state average of 60 percent, DeVries said.

Goodkin is projecting 5.7-million square feet of industrial, retail and office construction in Orlando in 1995, up from 2-million this year.

The Tampa Bay area led the state through the late 1980s, and will build about 3.5-million square feet this year but fall behind Orlando with 5.1-million square feet in 1995, the company estimates.

In smaller cities, Ocala will be the only Florida market to exceed pre-recession levels, in part with Kmart's plans for 1.5-million square feet of distribution space.

Miami, Fort Lauderdale, Palm Beach and Tampa Bay can count on major industrial growth from higher port and airport traffic, said DeVries.

He and other speakers at an economic outlook conference sponsored by the University of Florida and Goodkin encouraged the audience to look at foreign trade to relieve recessionary stagnation.

The business community also should try to capitalize on Florida's three straight years of double digit growth in international tourism, DeVries said.

Speakers generally forecast a mild economic recovery in the second half of the year followed by years of slow growth, low interest rates and unemployment in the 6 percent range.

Florida headed into the recession earlier than the nation as a whole with housing starts peaking in 1985 and population growth in 1987, said UF research economist Dave Denslow.

The state shook off the 1981-82 recession fairly easily because the service sector barely blinked, but recovery now will resemble that of the 1973-75 recession due to overbuilding and general economic restructuring, he said.

"The Florida economy is edging up. It is beginning to grow again," said Denslow. "The recovery is there, but it's not going to be very brilliant."