Central Florida Roundup
Saving Sea Cows
Brevard County has been at the center of a historic wave of manatee deaths in recent years: More than one-third of the 1,900 sea cows that died in Florida between 2021 and 2022 were recovered in Brevard County, where algae blooms in the Indian River Lagoon have decimated the seagrass that the mammals rely on for food.
While deaths are no longer at record levels, a dozen sea cows died in Brevard during the first three months of 2023 and the Brevard Zoo is working on ways to help the embattled animals.
In February, the zoo kicked off a partnership with the Hubbs-SeaWorld Research Institute to build a seagrass nursery in Melbourne Beach. The seagrass grown there will eventually be used for shoreline restoration work the zoo does in the lagoon. With a $2-million grant from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the zoo also is gearing up to build its first manatee rehabilitation center, which will provide immediate care to manatees in Brevard County and free up “bed space” at other facilities across the state.
Set to open by the end of this year, initial facilities will include three tanks behind the scenes on zoo grounds, where veterinary staff will care for stable (non-critical) manatee patients that require monitoring, weight gain or better weather conditions before being released back into the wild. Down the road, the zoo plans to establish a rehabilitation center at the aquarium and conservation center that it’s planning to build on property leased from Port Canaveral on the Banana River.
- Following a national search, Josef Ghosn was named the third president and CEO of Orlando-based AdventHealth University, a private, faith-based university that educates nurses and other health care professionals. Ghosn most recently served as vice president of strategic planning for AdventHealth’s multistate division.
- After serving as chief operating officer for AdventHealth East Orlando, Chase Tikker is now CEO of the hospital.
- Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach received a $485,000 grant from the Federal Aviation Administration to provide free training to high school students interested in becoming pilots, drone operators and aerospace engineers to help meet growing job demands in the aviation and aerospace industries.
- Rollins College in Winter Park unveiled its Tiedtke Theatre & Dance Centre. The 16,165-sq.-ft. facility, which opens fully this fall, features a 1,900-sq.-ft. black box theater that can accommodate 142 guests, an acting and directing laboratory, a dedicated dance studio, a costume and technology studio, and more.
- A women-led giving circle at the Central Florida Foundation called 100 Women Strong awarded a two-year, $80,000 grant to the Early Learning Shared Services Alliance (ELSSA) to support a workforce pipeline for the childcare industry. The ELSSA provides childcare centers and providers with administrative support and other resources so they can grow their businesses, become financially stable and focus on care and education. The group’s services are offered free to licensed providers in Orange, Osceola and Brevard County who have been in business at least one year, have access to a computer or mobile device and agree to participate in the program for at least one year.
- Austin Russell, CEO of Orlando-based Luminar Technologies, is acquiring majority ownership (82%) in Forbes Global Media Holdings in a deal that values the company at $800 million. In 2021, Forbes listed Russell, then 26, as the youngest American billionaire. Russell was 17 when he co-founded Luminar — which develops vision-based lidar and machine perception technologies, primarily for self-driving cars — in 2012.
- Disney is earmarking 80 acres near the Flamingo Crossings Town Center retail and dining complex in southwest Orange County for a third party to build an affordable housing development with more than 1,400 units for Disney cast members and other qualifying applicants.
- With a $41.2 million construction loan from Comerica Bank, the Altman Companies have begun construction on Altís Grand Lake Willis Phase II, a 230-unit garden-style apartment community adjacent to Altís Grand Lake Willis, another Altman development. A subsidiary of Grupo Sion, a real estate development firm based in Bolivia, has purchased the nine-acre Flamingo Waterpark Resort in Kissimmee for $20.5 million. LV Lending in Miami provided $10 million in financing for the property, which includes a 390,300-sq.-ft., 241-room hotel.
- International Insulation Products, a reflective insulation manufacturer, relocated its headquarters from Atlanta to Orlando. The company invested roughly $350,000 in the 40,000-sq.-ft. facility housing its corporate offices and manufacturing operations and projects adding 22 jobs by the end of the year.