Orlando developer Cameron Kuhn, once known as the “King of Downtown,” is looking to make a big comeback with plans for a $200 million skyscraper in the heart of the Central Business District.
Kuhn, who is best known for developing The Plaza mixed-use complex, has more than 40 years of real estate experience. His portfolio of work exceeds $500 million and includes a variety of office, condominium and mixed-use projects — 19 in the city of Orlando.
But he also has multiple bankruptcies on his extensive record, including a Chapter 7 filing in 2017 that is now closed. At the time, he declared nearly $23 million in debts. As he worked to settle his accounts, Kuhn said he focused on less glamorous development projects.
“It was an incredibly painful time in my life, and so I just wanted something really simple,” he said, which explains why he switched from downtown office buildings to schools. “It’s square walls, and it’s not like you have to reinvent the wheel or put a creative flair on it. It’s more about functionality — how to drop people off. So for me, it was just easier at the time.”
But now he’s climbing back on the horse. Last week Kuhn filed plans with City of Orlando to build a 37-story mixed-use residential tower next to I-4 on a 1.4-acre parking lot at 110 W. Jefferson St.
“I think it’s beautiful,” Kuhn said. “I‘m pretty excited about it. I mean, if you’re gonna come back to the city and do something really special, this would be it.”
Kuhn said he’s managed the parking lot for the owner, Harry Hahamovitch, for the last 20 years. The property has been under contract before, and on and off the market. It was listed for $15 million up until a few weeks ago when Kuhn put it under contract.
“I had a relationship with the seller, and obviously his price was changing as well. And we just finally got it together,” he said.
GREC Architect’s Michael Comiskey submitted a master plan for the project that would fill an entire city block bounded by Jefferson, Washington St., Gertrude Avenue and Garland Avenue.
“I’ve had different architects do different versions of that site for years,” Kuhn said. “Some of the last couple of versions I’ve liked. I wouldn’t have done them if I didn’t like it. But the reality is I needed more units, and if you’re going to grow those other versions, it just wouldn’t look right. So this particular version is, I think, beautiful. It’s really cool, and if you look at stuff I’ve done before, like The Plaza, it always has a statement.”
The proposed tower would rise 395 feet — making it the fifth tallest building in downtown Orlando — and would have 544 market-rate apartments, 40,895 square feet of office space, 22,000 square feet of retail space, and 350 parking spaces located on levels 2 through 5. The parking garage would be topped by a large outdoor amenity space with a pool.
Kuhn said the top floor would be a combination of short-term rental units and a restaurant. The site is two blocks in either direction from the city’s two SunRail stations and three blocks from Lake Eola. The new city park being built under I-4 will end right at his doorstep.
“And that’s a big part of it — what the city’s doing,” he said. “We’re trying to go hand-in-hand. And there’s not a lot of vacant lots downtown anymore, so we had to find the right land with the right things going on around it.”
Kimley Horn is the civil engineer assigned to the project. It has AC-3/A-T zoning, which allows up to 200 residential units per acre. The developer is setting aside 10% of the total square footage of the building for non-residential use, which helps achieve a density bonus that allows for the 400 units/acre. The development plan includes 138 studio apartments, 228 one-bedroom units, 162 two-bedroom units and 16 three-bedroom units.
Kuhn said he had to max out the density to make the project viable. “Construction costs are going through the roof, and you got to be able to get that density to spread the cost, because it’s so expensive. So that’s why a mid-rise didn’t work or something smaller,” he said.
And because he still has the bankruptcy on his record, Kuhn said he will have to find partners to secure financing for the project. “I definitely have partners in the equation, and how that finally shakes out is all happening in real time, so I’m not really sure who that player is going to be,” he said.
The master plan is slated to go to the Municipal Planning Board Sept. 20.
Comiskey also requested a Major Certificate of Appearance Approval from the city’s Appearance Review Board even though the project hasn’t gone through a courtesy review. In the project narrative, he wrote that the building structure would be cast-in-place concrete with a floor-to-ceiling glass and opaque panel window wall system spanning between the floors at the offices and residential units. The parking areas would be clad with opaque panels and metal screening. The project will look to utilize the Chilled Water Services provided by UCooling District Cooling Services.