Will Sanford airport property become the next ‘medical city’?

The Sanford Airport Authority (SAA) selected a consulting team recently that could drive substantially more economic development to Sanford and Seminole County.

Zyscovich Architects, a Miami-based firm with offices in Winter Park, was the top choice of the SAA to provide commercial real estate and land development services. The firm was ranked highest from a field of four companies that submitted information as part of a Request for Qualifications (RFQ) from September.

Sanford Airport President Diane Crews and SAA Chairman Frank Ioppolo are now negotiating with Zyscovich to create a contract. The full SAA board is expected to consider the contract at its February meeting.

On the surface this sounds like a rather mundane action by a government board, and it may very well turn out to be just that. There is the potential, however, that 10 years from now we’ll look back on this action as transformative.

Could the Sanford airport be the next “Medical City” like the area south of Orlando’s international airport? Probably not in terms of medicine or life sciences, but there is an opportunity to create a hub that attracts aviation or high-tech related industries to Sanford and North Seminole County.

Click to enlarge. The Sanford airport has more than 500 acres of developable property, including about a 1 mile stretch along State Road 46. Credit: Sanford Airport Authority.
Click to enlarge. The Sanford airport has more than 500 acres of developable property, including about a 1 mile stretch along State Road 46. Credit: Sanford Airport Authority.

That’s why the selection of the Zyscovich team is exciting. It’s a very talented team, but one name sticks out: Rich Crotty.

Crotty was the Orange County Mayor who helped create the vision of Medical City and Innovation Way, a corridor designed to leverage the concentration of tech talent between the University of Central Florida, Research Park and Medical City.

Although a formal contract has not been inked, Ioppolo spoke highly of Crotty’s presence on the Zyscovich team.

“Right now, the Sanford airport is a happy accident,” Ioppolo said. “We’ve got a lot of great things happening, but there has been no overriding vision on the real estate side of what the maximum potential of this airport could be. Rich Crotty and the team Zyscovich has assembled provide us with a lot of experience on how to do that.”

Crotty’s role on the Zyscovich team would be to figure out how the Sanford airport land fits in the broader economic community.

“What’s in the local economy we can use to leverage or augment economic development in the Sanford area?” Crotty noted. “For example, are there connections that can be made to UCF or some of the other institutions in the region? A lot of this will be blue-sky thinking, as opposed to let’s put a hotel here or a gas station over there.”

Ultimately, Ioppolo said Zyscovich was ranked highest by board members because they believed the team’s background provided the best opportunity to convert airport land into an economic engine.

“This isn’t about real estate transactions. We didn’t need an RFQ process to select a firm to help us do deals,” he said. “This process was about creating a vision for how we bring high-value companies and industries to this community so they can create good jobs and spin-off business for Sanford and Seminole County. If we get the vision right, the real estate transactions will come.”

If the board and the company agree to a contract, Ioppolo expects the first order of business for Zyscovich would be “marshaling the resources” of airport staff, board members, local elected officials, nearby property owners and residents.

I’m clearly a Sanford supporter and believe the city has more potential than anywhere in Central Florida. That’s why I find it interesting that someone like Rich Crotty, who has worked on a regional level for decades, thinks there are great possibilities in the Celery City.

It sounds like I have a bromance with Crotty. I don’t. I’m not naive enough to believe Crotty is the city’s savior or that the plan the Zyscovich team creates (if they agree to a contract) will guarantee any success. But I am optimistic, especially given the SAA board’s forward-looking process they used to reach this decision.

Despite what you read on social media, there are some awesome things happening in the city of Sanford. This is one of them.