Art aficionado and business owner Gary Hasson wants to re-purpose an old industrial site in Winter Garden that once operated as a citrus packing plant for the South Lake Apopka Citrus Growers Association.
Built in early the 1900s, the packinghouse is a known marker of West Orange County’s citrus past, but the inevitable wear and tear of time and some natural disasters — like Hurricane Irma’s winds knocking down an on-site water tower — have positioned the property to be in need of some rescuing.
Cue Hasson, who paid $2.1 million for the 3.7-acre site last year with the intention of turning the nearly 40,000-square-foot building into a new commercial center with retailers that specialize in art and artisan food concepts.
The property investor often pursues adaptive reuse projects.
“They’re my favorite, and that’s why the old packing house caught my attention,” Hasson told GrowthSpotter via email. He said he envisions the project, dubbed The Packing Plant, to obtain a variety of office users, mom and pop shops, small eateries, a center for the arts and a community meeting place.
Located on the southeast corner of Tildenville School Road and West Orange Trail, the land was previously under the control of Lester Austin III, who belongs to a long-legacy of citrus growers. A major landowner in the area, Austin is also credited in helping push forward original plans for the fast-growing Horizon West community in Winter Garden.
Hasson is currently requesting to change the future land use designation from Low Density Residential to Commercial in order to permit the redevelopment of the property. The project goes before Winter Garden’s City Commission June 27 for a final reading.
If approved, Hasson said he expects to begin renovations immediately so it may open the project sometime in the next year.
Renovations will include beautifying the exterior, adding balconies, installing new electrical and plumbing and giving the interior “the feeling of the early 1900s,” Hasson said.
“We want to preserve as much of the original architecture and features as possible,” he adds.
According to a conceptual site plan, the project would feature outdoor gathering space, a bicycle and golf cart lane and access to the 22-mile West Orange Trail.
The packinghouse at 1061 Tildenville School Rd. was developed nearly a century ago by the South Lake Apopka Citrus Growers Association, which was made up by a collective of farmers that were attracted to fertile land near the shores of Lake Apopka.
At one point, the cooperative group oversaw the largest citrus operation in Orange County.
Citrus processing at the facility was phased out in 1990. Fast forward to today, and the surrounding area has mostly been developed with single-family homes.
Hasson owns the Lake Forest, California-based Lightspeed Fine Art gallery, which features licensed art pieces from television shows and motion pictures like Star Trek, Stargate, Babylon 5 and Star Wars. He also founded a celebrity booking website called BookCelebrities.com.