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Orlando’s planning staff is recommending conditional approval for a new 10-story downtown apartment tower after the developer agreed to add retail space on the ground floor.

Tennessee-based Mid America Apartment Communities (MAA) is under contract for a 2-acre corner lot at 336 N. Orange Ave., immediately south of the Bank of America tower. The developer has filed a Master Plan for a new 327-unit apartment tower with a pool and lounge atop the 9-story parking garage.

The plan, which goes to the city’s Municipal Planning Board next week, has undergone several revisions. First MMA added the 10th floor, bringing the roof in alignment with the neighboring BoA tower. The initial plan included amenities for the residents on the ground floor, but no retail.

Developer MMA added 3,883 square feet of ground floor retail/dining space (purple) along Orange Avenue.
Developer MMA added 3,883 square feet of ground floor retail/dining space (purple) along Orange Avenue.

The city’s building code and design guidelines for the Central Business District requires that at least half of the street-frontage of the building allow for active commercial uses, including dining, retail and personal services.

After initial comments from staff, and a courtesy review by the Appearance Review Board, MMA and Finfrock Design Inc. tweaked its floorplan to incorporate 3,883 square feet of retail uses on the ground floor along Orange Avenue. The planning staff added that as a condition of approval.

While the city code requires retail spaces to have a minimum depth of 40 feet, MMA is seeking a waiver for a 25-percent reduction, to 30 feet. “The applicant has provided sufficient evidence of similar projects which have been successful with the reduced depth,” staff found.

In addition, the ground-floor amenity space would be constructed at with a minimum 40 foot depth, 20 foot width and 16 foot height so it can be converted to commercial space “once the demand for such uses exists.”

JP Beaulieu, Director of Retail Services for Bishop Beale Duncan, said MMA’s retail concerns are not uncommon among multifamily developers even though demand has been strong at some newer buildings, like Modera Central. Others, like Camden North Quarter (formerly The Sevens), have struggled to find tenants.

“Multi-family developers are often reluctant to build retail space because it has proven risky in certain projects downtown,” Beaulieu said. “We’ve seen several ground floor retail developments that had to be subsidized with lower rental rates or alternative uses (like office space) in order for them to get leased. (Multi-family) developers and their equity partners are mainly comfortable with building what they know, often retail space is a very small or nonexistent part of their overall development portfolio.”

While location is the primary factor in leasing ground-floor retail, there are some design decisions a developer can make early in the process to make the multi-tenant space more attractive.

“A developer can optimize the retail space with the end-users in mind by installing common shared grease traps, taking into account column spacing and placement, convenient free or validated parking, and larger outdoor patio areas that tie into an overall sense of place for the development,” Beaulieu added.

The land is owned by the Diocese of Orlando, which has been using it as a parking lot for the St. James Catholic Cathedral and chancery offices that lie directly southeast. The MMA parking garage would have capacity for 676 spaces, which exceeds the minimum requirement by 152 spaces. The extra parking will be reserved for the church, according to city officials.

Kimley-Horn is the project engineer and landscape architect.

The MMA tower is one of three new residential or mixed-use towers planned within a block of BoA. The first two have already received Master Plan approval from the MPB.

New York-based developer Property Markets Group (PMG) also has approvals from the city’s Appearance Review Board for its “X Orlando” tri-tower apartment development at 424 N. Orange Ave. Phase 1 includes a 17-story tower with 262 apartments — plus 41,000 square feet of ground-floor retail/commercial and 663 spaces in a nine-floor garage.

Miami-based MEC Development Associates is planning a 41-story mixed-use tower across the street. It would be Orlando’s tallest skyscraper. The “Zoi House” would have 25 floors of residential use, along with ground-floor retail and boutique office-commercial space.

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