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The stories that captivated GrowthSpotter readers in 2019

The developer who built Citi Tower in 2017 is eyeing another downtown Orlando site across the street.
The developer who built Citi Tower in 2017 is eyeing another downtown Orlando site across the street. (BKV Group)

From Disney’s enormous property takedowns to a high-stakes battle over an expensive toll road central to the ambitious plans of Orlando’s own Tavistock Development Company, it’s no wonder GrowthSpotter readers gravitated toward stories that took them inside some of the regions most significant development plays and property trades.

Over the course of the year, we interviewed several prominent developers in Central Florida and uncovered milestone development plans, which in their inception promised to bring the “World’s Best Flavored Whisky” to Clermont and North America’s first Muslim-friendly resort in Osceola County.

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Our finger-on-the-pulse journalism also stuck to covering the latest development plans set for downtown Orlando. At one point, as many as five new high rise towers were being proposed almost simultaneously at various locations in the city’s Central Business District.

Below we break down some of the top read stories in 2019.

Disney paid $11 million on Jan. 3 to buy portions of the nearly 2,000-acre Frank Brown estate land holdings. Disney puchased all of parcel 1 (620 acres) and portions of parcels 2 and 3.  Parcel 4 is slated to be a resort development.
Disney paid $11 million on Jan. 3 to buy portions of the nearly 2,000-acre Frank Brown estate land holdings. Disney puchased all of parcel 1 (620 acres) and portions of parcels 2 and 3.  Parcel 4 is slated to be a resort development. (Osceola County Property Appraiser/staff edit)

Disney buys another 1,500+ acres in Osceola County for $11 million

Early in the year, descendants of legendary cattle rancher Oren Brown — notorious for refusing to sell his land to Disney for the original theme park — agreed to sell most of their remaining ranch property for $11 million.

The deal for the roughly 1,575 acres took place less than a month after Disney's purchase of the neighboring 965-acre BK Ranch $23 million.

GrowthSpotter reported that the purchase price was less than half of the cost of the BK Ranch, because the BK Ranch had been rezoned for a master-planned, mixed-use development and had active permits from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and South Florida Water Management District.

Unicorp has named Dave & Buster's as the anchor of its planned Celebration Pointe shopping center at Interstate 4 and World Drive.
Unicorp has named Dave & Buster's as the anchor of its planned Celebration Pointe shopping center at Interstate 4 and World Drive. (Unicorp National Developments)

Dave & Buster’s named as anchor for new Celebration shopping center

Be sure to read the fine print, or in this case, some marketing materials proliferated by Unicorp National Developments at ICSC’s RECon dealmaking conference in Las Vegas.

In May, GrowthSpotter uncovered that the developer is in talks with Dave & Buster’s to anchor its 21-acre Celebration Pointe shopping and entertainment center at the World Drive interchange in Celebration.

The arcade-giant will take up 40,000 square feet in Celebration Pointe. Other named tenants include T.G.I. Fridays, Burger King, Dunkin Donuts, AT&T Store and a french cafe, according to the marketing materials.

The Sola at Celebration apartments have been vacant since August 2017, when Osceola County issued an evacuation order.
The Sola at Celebration apartments have been vacant since August 2017, when Osceola County issued an evacuation order. (Southstar Capital Group Ltd.)

Condemned apartment complex in Celebration fetches $43M

One of the most read property trades of the year happens to be of a condemned multifamily community at the center of litigation between developer Hines and its previous owner Southstar Capital Group.

In February, Cohen Goldstein Investment Strategies paid $43 million, or about $140,500 per apartment, for a 306-unit multifamily property that had been vacated in 2017. The previous owner, Southstar, spent $67 million on the development in 2016, which was the same year the six-building complex at 1688 Celebration Blvd. was completed.

CGI told GrowthSpotter it plans to rename and reopen the community after correcting several construction defects identified by the Osceola County Building Department in 2017, including cracks in its concrete, instances of water damage to roofs and sagging balconies.

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Unicorp National Development is in discussions with a Fortune 500 company to move its headquarters to The Boardwalk at O-Town West. The tenant would lease 250,000 square feet of office space.
Unicorp National Development is in discussions with a Fortune 500 company to move its headquarters to The Boardwalk at O-Town West. The tenant would lease 250,000 square feet of office space. (Unicorp National Developments)

Unicorp closes $49M deal for O-Town West land and preps for construction

In August, GrowthSpotter gave readers an up-to-date look into Unicorp National Development’s O-Town West, a massive mixed-use development that combines over 1,500 residential units with retail, dining and office space.

Through our reporting, we were able to pencil down just how much Unicorp and development partner Daryl Carter spent assembling the 200 acres in Orlando’s tourism corridor. That number equates to about $131 million.

In the story, we also uncovered some discussions with a Fortune 500 company to move its headquarters to The Boardwalk at O-Town West. The tenant would lease 250,000 square feet of office space.

This is the proposed 17-story mixed-use tower slated for the corner of Division and Central avenues in Parramore.
This is the proposed 17-story mixed-use tower slated for the corner of Division and Central avenues in Parramore. (IDEA Architecture)

More high-rise towers could be headed to downtown Orlando

Also in August, GrowthSpotter noticed an unusually high number of development plans being proposed at various locations in Orlando’s Central Business District.

“Welcome to the new normal.” we said. The proposals run the gamut of uses with various mixes of hotel rooms, apartments, condos, offices and retail. Heights range from 17 to 33 stories.

In the story we highlighted all the towers being planned in the downtown region, including the next phase of Lincoln Property Company’s massive Church Street Station development and a new 17-story mixed-use tower in Parramore, just across the proposed Orlando Magic Sports & Entertainment District.

The green alignment would impact 160 acres at the southwest corner of the Split Oak Forest preserve. The orange route would impact homeowners on Cyrils Drive and several large masterplanned communities, including Del Webb at Sunbridge, which is in development now.
The green alignment would impact 160 acres at the southwest corner of the Split Oak Forest preserve. The orange route would impact homeowners on Cyrils Drive and several large masterplanned communities, including Del Webb at Sunbridge, which is in development now. (CFX)

CFX consultant to recommend developer-backed route for Osceola Parkway Extension

A plan to build a highway through the middle of a protected forest generated a lot of readership this year.

GrowthSpotter followed several lengthy meetings between the Central Florida Expressway Authority staff, consultants and stakeholders, like Tavistock Development Company, to find out what will be the likely outcome.

In November, we reported that CFX recommended the Osceola Parkway Extension route favored by the developer because it cost $103 million less than the route that avoids Split Oak Forest, and because it wouldn’t require the relocation of over a dozen existing homes.

The plan reroutes the road through the southern end of the forest and obligates Tavistock to donate for preservation about 1,550 acres directly east of Split Oak and other existing conservation lands.

Orlando developer Chuck Whittall wants to redevelop the 50-acre Orlando Fashion Square mall as an open-air, mixed-use center inspired by California's Fashion Island.
Orlando developer Chuck Whittall wants to redevelop the 50-acre Orlando Fashion Square mall as an open-air, mixed-use center inspired by California's Fashion Island.

Developer buying land under Orlando Fashion Square mall with plans to demolish and rebuild it

In April, GrowthSpotter teamed up with the Orlando Sentinel to cover a deal to buy the land under Orlando Fashion Square mall. The $23 million contract marked a key step in the redevelopment of the ailing Central Florida shopping center.

The buyer, Unicorp National Developments, paid a non-refundable deposit for the 46 acres. Chuck Whittall discussed his plans to transform the mall into a $1 billion community of retail, residential and office space.

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A map outlining the Olympus Sports & Entertainment project and where Clonts Corner lies in relation to the project.
A map outlining the Olympus Sports & Entertainment project and where Clonts Corner lies in relation to the project. (Olympus Sports & Entertainment Group/GrowthSpotter)

More land by Clermont’s Olympus project is being groomed for development

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Readers are paying attention to development news in Clermont. On our list of top read stories includes land next to the proposed 240-acre Olympus Sports & Entertainment complex.

Over the summer, GrowthSpotter reported that another piece of extensive Clonts Groves land southeast of Lake Louisa was being groomed for residential and commercial uses. The 55-acre tract at the southeast corner of U.S. Highway 27 and Schofield Road, abuts the sports complex to the north.

The Olympus Sports & Entertainment is being primed to feature a community of multifamily and townhome units, more than 1,000 hotel rooms, 860,000 square feet of retail and office space, and nine sport and civic venues showcasing a variety of traditional and non-traditional sports.

Canadian developer Everest Group is planning a 3,000-key, 5-star resort on Kissimmee's W192 tourism corridor, just minutes from Disney World.
Canadian developer Everest Group is planning a 3,000-key, 5-star resort on Kissimmee's W192 tourism corridor, just minutes from Disney World. (Everest Group of Companies)

Canadian developer pays $34M for land to build Muslim-friendly Disney-area resort

In October, an affiliate of Canadian developer Everest Group of Companies paid $34 million for a 217-acre tract near Disney, activating plans for what may be North America’s first Muslim-friendly resort.

The proposed Grand Medina Resort & Spa Orlando would also be Osceola County’s first five-star resort. CEO Zafir Rashid told GrowthSpotter the project would add 3,000 luxury rooms and villas, a full service spa, water park and a mix of retail uses.

It’s located at the southwest quadrant of the U.S. 192 - S.R. 429 interchange, about a half-mile west of Margaritaville Resort Orlando and minutes from the Disney theme parks.

The Heritage Distillery will be one of the anchor tenants in the Heritage Square project. The businesses are planned for the vacant land at the intersection of State Road 50 and 12th Street.
The Heritage Distillery will be one of the anchor tenants in the Heritage Square project. The businesses are planned for the vacant land at the intersection of State Road 50 and 12th Street. (Powell Design Studio)

Award-winning craft distillery to open first Florida location in Clermont

Apparently our readers are whisky lovers… Making our list includes GrowthSpotter’s story about a proposed commercial plaza in Clermont that will be anchored by craft distillery, Heritage Distilling Company.

If approved, the Heritage Square project would rise on vacant land at the intersection of State Road 50 and 12th Street.

Heritage Distilling has six locations in the Pacific Northwest, but none in the Southeast. It makes a variety of spirits including bourbon, whiskey, vodka, rum, and gin. Their BSB, or Brown Sugar Bourbon, has been named the “World’s Best Flavoured Whisky” two years in a row by “Whisky Magazine”.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at arabines@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-5427, or tweet me at @amanda_rabines. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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