At a premium price of more than $1 million per acre, a New-York investment firm this week secured vacant land at the doorstep of where Universal is building its next theme park.
East Rock Capital closed the $19.3 million deal Wednesday for 17.9 acres of property along Universal Boulevard using an entity titled Ergs Lando LLC. That entity was created a month earlier and lists East Rock as its authorized agent, according to the Florida Department of Corporations.
The land seller is an entity titled Ergs Wi Orlando Reo LLC. That entity’s address matches that of a Dallas office for Goldman Sachs, a global financing institution also based in New York.
A phone call to East Rock’s managing principal and co-founder Adam Shapiro was not returned as of Friday afternoon. Plans for the property are not known at this point.
But the high-dollar purchase suggests future development is on the way for prime real estate across the street from the Orange County Convention Center, a short drive from the gate of Universal’s future 750-acre Epic Universe theme park and near where Universal is planning a 1,000-unit affordable housing community.
“At a price tag of over a million dollars per acre, I wouldn’t expect these parcels to remain undeveloped for long,” said David Harrison, a professor of real estate at the University of Central Florida. “Rather, I’d fully anticipate a number of new hotels, restaurants, and retail establishments to open right alongside Universal’s Epic Universe sometime around the summer of 2025.”
What exactly could be coming is anyone’s guess.
“I wouldn’t rule anything out at this point,” said Francisco Jaramillo, owner and managing broker with Orlando-based commercial real estate firm, 407 Commercial Real Estate.
As a certified commercial investor who specializes in the Central Florida market, Jaramillo said certain properties in Orlando, especially in the tourist district and Lake Nona, are viewed as so valuable that investors are willing to engage in a bidding war to secure them at a time when available land is becoming more and more scarce.
“The commercial real estate market in Orlando has increased to just incredible levels,” he said. “There’s such high demand for land that people are paying prices that were previously unheard of. I think what’s a factor is that there’s so much money and so much demand for land that people are outbidding themselves for property. People are willing to pay.”
The land’s proximity to Epic Universe also plays a factor in the high sale price, Jaramillo added.
Epic Universe is expected to open by the summer of 2025 as Universal’s third and largest theme park. The location, between Destination Parkway and W. Sand Lake Drive, will also feature an entertainment center, hotels, shops, restaurants and more, according to Universal.
Universal is splitting the cost with Orange County to extend Kirkman Road through the Epic Universe site.
Universal’s announcement of the park included concept art featuring several themed lands branching off from a central hub with three lagoons. What appears to be a large hotel stands across from the park’s entrance.
The recently purchased land sits just north of where Wendover Housing Partners plans to build a 1,000-unit mixed-income housing community for Universal with on-site tuition-free preschool and medical care, 16,000 square feet of retail space, fitness trails and a transportation hub for buses, ride sharing and employer shuttles.
The plan for Catchlight Crossings calls for community event space, technology cafés, a space for hobbies and classes, a fitness center, community gardens, a neighborhood food pantry, a game room, a playground, two resort-style swimming pools and a grilling gazebo.
A year ago, projections called for rent at 750 of the units to be set between $400 and $850 a month, although it’s unclear if rising costs for building materials and labor could increase those amounts.
In December 2019, Universal announced it would dedicate 20 acres of land for the affordable housing project on the eve of a crucial — and ultimately successful — vote by Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings and county commissioners to grant the park $125 million from a special taxing district. The money was slated to help extend Kirkman Road through 750 acres owned by Universal.
East Rock Capital is an investment firm serving a select group of families since 2006. East Rock manages approximately $2 billion of assets, which it deploys opportunistically into commercial real estate, private businesses, structured financial assets, and hedge fund partnerships, according to its website.
The company was founded by Graham Duncan and Adam Shapiro, a former Vice President of Goldman Sachs, according to his LinkedIn page.