Design evolves for tri-tower project in downtown Orlando w/green elements

Manhattan-based developer Property Markets Group (PMG) is pushing new green design elements for its proposed three-tower residential project in downtown Orlando, and has drawn city staff feedback this week that is complimentary and critical of some aspects. 

The company filed plans last month for downtown's largest mixed-use multifamily project ever proposed on one parcel, with 867 apartments across three phased towers and 41,000 square feet of retail-commercial proposed at 434 N. Orange Ave., GrowthSpotter first reported March 22

PMG's team -- which includes Kimley-Horn as civil engineer, Baker Barrios as architect of record and California-based Berkelhamer as design architect -- is still in the schematic design phase of the project, a design that is changing regularly. But the developer submitted updated renderings and elevations to Orlando's Appearance Review Board for an initial courtesy review on Thursday. 

Dubbed "X Orlando" as part of PMG's new PMGX Living line of "social living community" developments, the Orange Avenue property would be the largest residential project in downtown Orlando by far if fully completed. 

ARB staff commended the applicant for "significant progress and improvement of the design and architecture" from its initial massing in March to this week's updates. But the project still has design questions that must be resolved in the coming months. 

The garage podium, while lined on two sides with apartments, is massive. It will have a football field's worth of frontage along Orange Avenue and approximately 425 feet along Livingston Street, more than any other building footprint along Orange in the Central Business District. 

PMG's design team must focus on creating variety and activity along the ground level on both Orange and Livingston in its Phase 1, and along the north and west facades in phases 2 and 3, staff wrote.

"Living walls" with green vegetation planted into the building's exterior have been proposed by PMG in its latest design update. Staff support the concept, but are concerned about the long-term viability and maintenance costs to care for such an extensive green wall system in Florida's harsh climate. 

Staff wrote that it would endorse green walls on the building, but encourage the developer's design team to present alternatives for the green wall system if it proves unsustainable over time. 

Integration of the first residential tower and the garage podium base is preferred by staff, who said the latest plan update begins to integrate those at the Orange/Livingston corner, but needs improvement. Architectural details on the towers above must be continued down to the ground for all three phases. 

On the western facade of the building facing Interstate 4, PMG's latest design included the option of a large public art mural across the podium's garage levels. The current design and primary color scheme are starting points only, and staff recommend a more cohesive concept that combines architecture and art into a unifying statement across the project.

Proposed "wings" on the top of each tower are becoming an overused element in the downtown Orlando skyline, ARB staff wrote. They want PMG's design team to keep working toward a distinctive skyline treatment for X Orlando that includes decorative lighting. 

Rooftop solar panels are being considered by PMG for the project on its latest aerial rendering, which is newer than the ARB materials. If installed, it would be only the second multifamily project in downtown Orlando with rooftop solar, and likely the largest solar array on any commercial building in the submarket. 

Staff said they were concerned about viability of ground-floor retail space on the building's western side along Gertrude's Walk. There is limited traffic and visibility there to support retail uses.

ARB staff are encouraging the developer to look at this as flex space with smaller modules, like live-work units that are adaptable for retail or office. Adding townhouse or flat-style residential units with ground-level entrances is another option.

Each of the three phases of PMG's project will require an ARB final approval prior to submittal of building permits. 

A PMG lead executive previously told GrowthSpotter the company is prioritizing this downtown Orlando project for fast-track development as soon as possible this year. 

The property is a legitimate Transit-Oriented Development, with a Walk Score of 89 and direct access to the Lynx terminal for SunRail and buses. 

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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