A veteran local developer is floating a New Orleans-inspired plan for part of downtown Orlando's Parramore neighborhood, and wants the city to commit support to get the ball rolling. But officials say a partnership could arise only after private land is lined up.
Robert J.S. "Bob" Snow of Snow & Associates is credited with redeveloping downtown's Church Street Station in the 1970s into a highly successful shopping and dining district, later selling the property in 1989 at its peak.
He's been working for the past three years, admittedly with incremental progress made, on a passion project to revitalize three city blocks of Parramore between Orlando City Soccer Stadium and the Amway Center.
"I don't know if there's a buck to be made in this, but it just offends me to see a neighborhood that close to downtown still so blighted, after decades of politicians promising to revitalize it," Snow told GrowthSpotter. "This team came together to see what we really can do to make Parramore as vital as everything else that's come up in downtown."
Inspired by New Orleans' French Quarter, Snow's concept plan, designed by local architect Guy Butler, envisions a linear "Parramore Park" lined by mixed-use development and affordable housing that covers more than 10 acres, running horizontally between W. Church and Jackson streets, and book-ended by S. Division and S. Lee avenues.
Most of the land in those three blocks is privately owned by more than a dozen individuals, companies or churches, with roughly 25 percent owned by the city of Orlando.
One of those private land owners is an affiliate of local developer Timothy Green and his Green Tree Development Group.
He and partners own a half-vacant retail building at 532 W. Church St. where they're planning a historic renovation for a new bar and restaurant. They're also renovating a multi-tenant retail building at 642 W. Church St. for new users, and are pursuing multiple other properties in the immediate area for purchase and redevelopment.
"I've met with Snow and know of his plans, but my group is not selling," he said Monday. "We're investing and moving forward with our venues. We're open to partnerships with (Snow), but we have a vision to develop that area as well."
Snow has not acquired any private land within the three-block stretch.
In his view, the pivotal parcel needed for his Parramore Park is also the most difficult to obtain: 1.52 acres owned by the city at the southwest corner of W. Church and S. Division Avenue, home to the 75-unit Jackson Court Apartments.
The affordable housing community is operated by the Orlando Housing Authority(OHA), which has 23 years remaining on its land lease with the city.
Vivian Bryant, president and CEO, knows that Jackson Court is the quintessential underdeveloped site in downtown's arena district now ripe for redevelopment.
She has fielded multiple calls from developers in recent years, and met personally with two -- including Snow -- that have proposed land swaps with the city to move and redevelop the apartments nearby, according to an OHA spokeswoman.
But at this point, Bryant isn't interested in just any land swap that would uproot the Jackson Court residents from their enviable corner, which boasts a "Walker's Paradise" Walk Score of 93. New proposals must incorporate the needs of residents to draw OHA interest.
The situation came to a head last week, when Snow's proposal for 0.759 acres of city land two blocks to the south finished second to competitor Bags, Inc., despite a higher bid price.
His affiliate Church Street Square LLC owns a 0.413-acre parcel along S. Division Avenue, next to the Geico Parking Garage.
Snow wanted to leverage that property, the adjacent city land up for bid and private parcels under contract into a large enough site to win Bryant's approval to move the Jackson Court apartments.
Orlando's City Council will vote Tuesday on whether to accept staff's recommendation to sell the 0.759 acres to Bags. Snow plans to speak at the meeting.
"The viability of the linear park really hinges on having it start at that Church and Division corner, and relocate and rebuild the Jackson Court apartments," he said. "It has to come down to what they see as the future of Parramore. I want to share this vision with council members."
Snow has the support of HRI Properties, a national developer with a 35-year history of leading mixed-use urban redevelopment projects with a focus on low-income neighborhoods.
What they want is Orlando's commitment to a Public Private Partnership (PPP) with city-owned land, said co-founder Pres Kabacoff.
"I've known Bob (Snow) for almost 30 years, we're friends and in the early part of my career I was developing some property in New Orleans with my dad and we wanted to do his Church Street concept there," he said. "We like Orlando, it's a vibrant city with a lot of pluses.
"We're very interested (in Parramore) and we visited with the city officials some time ago," Kabacoff continued. "We do neighborhoods well, but we don't speculate on property. We come work with governments to improve an area through PPP. We'd come up with the master plan, which Bob has done some preliminary work on."
Tracy Forrest, founder and CEO of Winter Park Construction, said he is also advising Snow on the conceptual plans, and could be an investor in the project if the conditions and financial underwriting are right.
Thomas Chatmon, executive director of the Downtown Development Board and Community Redevelopment Agency, has met numerous times in the past few years with Snow and executives from HRI Properties to discuss the linear park proposal.
"It's a beautiful vision," he said. "But at this time we have not seen demonstrative action that brings any real momentum to the project."
A primary concern for Chatmon would be adequately relocating the Jackson Court residents. If Snow can offer OHA an attractive solution for that and acquire strategic private parcels, then the city would "be happy to look at a Public Private Partnership," he said.
Chatmon also served on the selection committee in mid-April where the Bags, Inc. offer was chosen over Snow's slightly higher offer price.
He echoed the city's response on April 25 that Bags' proposal won over the selection committee and staff because that company had the funding, plans and a clear timeline established to break ground on the property within 18 months.
"Snow's vision was not really translated into an implementation plan," he said. "This doesn't preclude him from continuing to pursue his vision for the linear park."