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Developer preps downtown micro-parcel for vertical options, seeks GC estimates

Highlighted in blue is the 0.15-acre parcel on Palmetto Avenue in downtown Orlando, an undeveloped parcel located behind the Skyhouse Orlando apartment tower on N. Magnolia Avenue.
Highlighted in blue is the 0.15-acre parcel on Palmetto Avenue in downtown Orlando, an undeveloped parcel located behind the Skyhouse Orlando apartment tower on N. Magnolia Avenue. (Orange County Property Appraiser)

Orlando-based Atlantic Express Real Estate Development has fresh ideas for an orphaned 0.15-acre parcel on downtown's Palmetto Avenue, tucked behind the SkyHouse Orlando apartment tower.

Located at 320 Palmetto Ave., the vacant commercial lot was bought by an Atlantic Express affiliate on March 2 for $450,000. The property has little going for it at first glance, trapped on a dead-end street between a parking garage and SkyHouse that face N. Rosalind Avenue, and commercial buildings facing N. Magnolia.

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Its previous owner, Topland Development of Maitland, floated a development plan in 2005 through the City of Orlando for an 18-story condo residential tower named "Luxparque," which was supposed to break ground in 2007 but never came to fruition.

The silver lining of that failed project was its solution for tower parking on a 0.15-acre footprint: the first fully automatic parking system in Florida with pallet-free technology from Swiss-Park.

Used for more than a decade in large urban residential towers in Europe, India, Brazil and other markets, Swiss-Park's fully automated parking machines allow residents to enter the garage and stop their car on a platform. A robotic system then lifts and places the vehicle and its platform in a vertical storage space.

Antonio Romano, president of Atlantic Express, originally pursued the tiny parcel a few months ago with the goal of using it as satellite parking for his downtown office property, at 14 E. Washington St.

He came across the condo tower plans through the city's Municipal Planning Board records. The Development Plan, on which Baker Barrios served as architect and Topland invested $900,000 for due diligence, earned MPB approval at the time. It included five floors of automatic parking and 13 condo floors.

Two local general contractors recently produced bid estimates for Romano on the 18-story tower plans, projecting costs of $200 per square foot for the residential floors, $1.2 million for the five-story automatic parking, and a total project cost of $12 million.

That 18-story plan isn't feasible for Romano, but it inspired him and his son, architect Fulvio Romano of Rabits-Romano, to think differently for the tiny tract. Thus far they've worked up three options.

The first is an 11-unit, four-floor multi-family building with ground floor parking.

The second is an eight-floor apartment tower, with 32 efficiency or one-bedroom units spread across the top seven floors. An elevated ground floor would use semi-automatic parking by Swiss-Park or a similar provider.

With semi-automatic, residents direct their cars into a vertical parking lift, then exit, press a button and the vehicle is lifted into an open space.

The third option is a three-story commercial building, with interest from a local bank for a 3,000-square-foot branch and drive-thru, or an early childhood education franchise that could occupy two 8,000-square-foot floors, with the third offered as office space.

"We're now looking for general contractors who can provide bids to estimate the cost of these projects, and are seeking private equity partners for the investment," Romano said.

Roughly $1.2 million in private equity capital would be sought for the development, Romano estimates.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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