Richard Heisenbottle Architects
Richard Heisenbottle Architects
Sanford city officials have been waiting more than six years for a long-approved mixed-use project in its downtown area to show some signs of life.
And as a deadline looms for Heritage Park and its contracted developer, Sanford Waterfront Partners, elected leaders are left to wonder if a $5.2 million commitment of public funds related to the stalled project should be shifted toward other needs.
“My common sense tells me that (Heritage Park) is not looking good,” city commissioner Patty Mahany said Monday. “There’s been a lot of frustration with this Heritage Park situation. ….Can we free up this money and put it to better use than sitting on it and waiting? We are getting over this whole situation.”
The city inked a ten-year agreement with Sanford Waterfront Partners in 2017 with the understanding that the developer would build new restaurants, shops, offices, and housing on city-owned land a few blocks from Lake Monroe. The space is currently used for parking during events.
Phone calls and email messages to Sanford Waterford Partners were not returned as of Tuesday evening.
Plans call for 235 multi-family units, 35,750 square feet of shops and eateries, and about 8,500 square feet of offices in what city officials have estimated to be a $50 million to $55 million public/private partnership.
The contract stipulated that the developer would purchase the land by Jan. 1 of 2025. It hasn’t done so yet.
As that date inches nearer and nearer, the city has another deadline to contend with.
The city plans to develop the streetscape for the Heritage Park project and has earmarked $3.1 million of Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) funds for that work. Seminole County has also committed $2.1 million toward the streetscape effort.
That 30-year CRA program sunsets in 2025.
Meanwhile, the mixed-use project that’s supposed to accompany the improved road infrastructure is no further along today than it was when the plan was approved six years ago.
The contract between the city and the developer requires that the project be completed by 2028.
“They (the developers) haven’t done anything since 2017,” Charles Davis, the chairman of the city’s CRA board told commissioners during the Feb. 13 meeting
Davis, during an unsuccessful bid for Mayor in 2022, was critical of the city’s handling of the Heritage Park agreement.
“So the fact they are going to get it done by 2028 (when the contract expires) is probably not likely, but miracles happen,” he said Monday.
With 2025 approaching, Davis said it’s time for city officials to contemplate what to do with that CRA money: Keep it set aside in a piggy bank for Heritage Park or put it toward another project.
Road improvements are needed around Main Street near City Hall, Davis noted. There’s also been talk about the city adding to its parking stock downtown by building a garage.
“There are a lot of things we could do with that money that would be difficult to do under the general fund later on,” Davis said.
That option poses risks and uncertainties though. If the city allocates that money elsewhere and Heritage Park winds up materializing, the city will be on the hook for the $5.2 million promised for road improvements.
City Attorney William Colbert said that if the city decides to pull money away from Heritage Park it’s possible the city could lose the county’s $2.1 million share associated with the project.
“The city then would have $3 million and not $5 million,” he said. “That’s another big discussion item.”
Another option would be for the city to go ahead and use the CRA money to begin road work around the proposed development site, regardless of whether Sanford Waterfront Properties executes the deal.
“Whether it’s the Heritage Park project or some other project, I’d imagine there’s going to be a project at some point,” said Mayor Art Woodruff.
City staff advised against this approach though, saying that a developer’s construction could damage whatever road work the city puts in.
The topic requires further discussion among Sanford officials and potentially Seminole County leaders.
What to do about the Heritage Park stalemate has been debated for several years in city council chambers. In 2022, Sanford Waterfront Partners requested to bring on another developer, the Michaels Organization, to help with the project and speed up the process as a 50/50 partner. The company has developed 55,000 housing units across the country, according to its website.
“Michaels has the experience of hundreds of projects and has the ability to support SWP,” Richard J. Heisenbottle, manager of Sanford Waterfront Partners, told commissioners last May. “This is as fine of a company as we could ever hope to partner with. We have the most competent development company that could possibly be joining us here.”
The city commission ultimately voted against making amendments to the original agreement with the developer this late in the game.
“It’s just a matter of how long this has taken,” said Commissioner Sheena Rena Britton. “It’s just now, the faith has been lost.”
Woodruff, who could not be reached for this story, told WFTV at the time that financing and the COVID-19 pandemic have presented problems for the Heritage Park project.
“It was a very complicated plan,” he told the news station. “Of course, the pandemic came in and interrupted things.”
Woodruff told the Orlando Sentinel last June that he understands the frustration with the stalled Heritage Park project. But he noted it would be difficult to get out of the contract with Sanford Waterfront Partners.
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