Orlando’s Appearance Review Board praised the latest redesign of the former AT&T building at 500 N. Orange Ave., but the developer’s request to build a bunker-like parking garage on the vacant lot next door drew a different reaction.
“I find this garage overwhelming,” ARB member Margaret Brock said Thursday during the courtesy review for the adaptive reuse of the long-vacant office building. “And I understand the use, but I need it to be stepped back. It feels like it’s swallowing the street”
The design challenge pits two opposing forces against each other: the city’s design standard that requires active uses and transparency on the street level versus the security needs for the client. In this case, the owner, West Second Street Associates, has leased the entire building to a federal agency “that deals with immigration.”
ARB Director Richard Forbes explained to board members that the floorplan calls for judges’ chambers and courtrooms to be located on the ground floor, which explains why the design team from Baker Barrios tweaked the plan to eliminate any ground-level retail uses and to make the parking garage a secure facility.
Architect Jed Prest said the plan calls reskinning the office building and using the same stucco material on the ground level of the 5-level parking garage. The concept shows a series of murals along the brick base of the office building and one primary entrance on Orange Avenue. The existing windows are expanded, and floor-to-ceiling glass highlights the center of the building and its southeast corner.
“I applaud reuse all day long, so I’m happy about that, and certainly the south-facing elevation, I was comfortable with that, too,” Brock said. “The (southeast) corner to me is approachable, but I need that parking garage stepped back in some regard.”
Forbes noted in his report that this would be the only parking garage fronting on Orange Avenue downtown that doesn’t have commercial uses on the ground level or a tower above it. The City’s Land Development Code does not prohibit this, but it also isn’t a desired condition, he wrote.
ARB Chairman Patrick Panza asked Baker Barrios to come up with options to address the “sheer unbrokenness of that pedestrian experience” for virtually the entire block between Amelia and Concord streets.
“There’s a lot of frontage where there’s essentially nothing going on, and I think that that’s problematic for the location of this building,” Panza said. “Of course we’re gonna have to be sensitive to the use of the building — that’s a reality. But I think there needs to be some more effort put in here.”
He also requested additional views that would show the garage as it abuts the former Firestone building, a historic landmark building that recently reopened as The Vanguard music venue.
The building is just steps from the Lynx/SunRail station and lies directly across Orange Avenue from the former Orlando Sentinel property, which was bought by Miami’s Midtown Opportunities in 2016 for $35 million. The developer applied last year for demolition permits for the block bounded by Amelia and Concord streets, indicating there may be plans to sell or develop it.