It’s been a rough year for the beloved Will’s Pub in Orlando’s Mills 50 District neighborhood.
On top of last year’s mandatory shut downs and a general fear of possible exposure to COVID-19 crippling business, the founder and creator of Will’s Pub, Will Walker, was concerned about the pub’s future location.
Property owner Robert Cascio had put the 1,560-square-foot bar and event space at 1042 N. Mills Ave. up for sale. Even with about ten years left in the lease, Walker worried a new owner may make tenant obligations more stringent, or aim to redevelop the property once the contract expires.
“I try to keep things positive, but seeing the building go up for sale was a bit frustrating,” Walker said. And purchasing the building himself wasn’t an option.
“This past year we had to reinvent, pivot, do all sorts of things just to stay afloat,” he said. “I used every line of cash/credit just to be there.” Ideally for the long-run, Walker adds.
A fundraiser campaign he started last year to support his business raised nearly $35,000.
Lucky for him, Cascio sold the venue to a long-time patron of the establishment. Property investor Kevin Reynolds recently paid $870,000 for the venue, according to Orange County records.
Reynolds told GrowthSpotter he saw his first concert in Will’s Pub and was always fond of the bar.
“You really have to believe in the area and in what the operator is doing before investing,” he said. “Will’s done a phenomenal job being an operator of the space. That’s my stance on it.”
Lee Zerivitz with City Commercial in Winter Park represented the seller in the deal. Zerivitz did not respond to a request for comment and Cascio declined to comment on the story.
According to Reynolds and Walker, multiple offers were placed on the property. Although Reynolds didn’t offer to pay the highest price, he believes the seller ultimately chose his offer because it was all cash.
Other interested buyers include property investor Jorge Boone, who bought the Mills Avenue retail strip that housed the former Noodles and Rice Cafe, The Strand restaurant and The British Shoppe for $1.2 million in 2019.
Boone also owns the Cameo Theatre building along Colonial Drive and the properties that house Educe Salon and the original Tako Cheena on Mills.
Before the pandemic, business owners in the area complained they were feeling squeezed by the vibrant retailers entering the market, driving rents up, increasing traffic and adding to the area’s parking shortage.
Like other growing areas, when the pandemic hit, many business owners began reevaluating the cost to rent space at the locations and as a consequence either relocated, became virtual or closed up shop.
Last year, longtime Cameo Theater tenant Snap Orlando announced it was leaving its Mills 50 location. It now rents a location in downtown Orlando.
Meanwhile, developers and investors have flocked to Orlando’s Mills 50 District in hopes to be part of its burgeoning growth.
In August, GrowthSpotter reported of plans submitted by Trammell Crow Residential to develop one of its Alexan branded communities on the corner of Colonial and N. Fern Creek Avenue.
Dubbed Alexan at Mills 50, the project proposes a five-story, mixed-use building with 246 residential units, including 15 live-work units on the ground floor, amenities and a dog park that would be open to the public.
The site is just a block from another infill redevelopment project, Colonial Promenade at the corner of Colonial and Mills Avenue.
Development plans call for the renovation of three existing buildings on Colonial and Woodward, followed by a new 8,800-square-foot retail building where a standalone 7-Eleven is being demolished.
Colette Santana, vice president with the JLL’s retail advisory team in Central Florida, said over the past year, she and her team have signed three leases under 90 days in the Mills 50 market.
“Mills 50 is one of Orlando’s trendiest markets due to its strong local tenant mix and walkability, she said while pointing to new emerging concepts popping up like Tori Tori and Matcha House Tea.
“Developers and budding restaurant entrepreneurs alike are actively trying to secure their spot as the Central Florida restaurant market matures post-Covid,” Santana said.
More recently, entities tied to one of the founders of Orlando company Team Market Group, have been assembling properties in Mills 50.
Brothers Keith and Romi Mawardi founded TMG and are behind popular bar lounges in Orlando like Mathers Social Gathering and The Wellborn, located through the courtyard inside the historic IW Phillips House on Lake Lucerne.
The company also owns the space where Joysticks Arcade Lounge closed.
In October of last year, companies tied to Keith Mawardi purchased the Kittinger Business Machines building at 1024 N Mills Ave. for $1 million and the laundromat close to Will’s Pub at 1030 N. Mills Ave. for $495,000.
Walker said he was told plans for the laundromat include opening up a new restaurant.
He said he came close to purchasing the laundromat himself and opening up a burger joint, but the pandemic forced him to focus on Will’s Pub instead.
“Honestly I would love to stay [at the current location],” Walker said. “I’ve moved in the past, and you lose so much momentum when you move.”