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Strip mall off I-Drive beaten path could attract next big project

The Republic Square shopping center on Universal Boulevard, currently home to a handful of businesses such as Ararat Euro Food and Brazilian restaurant Ana's Kitchen, sits on 11.4 acres that are ripe for mixed-use development.
The Republic Square shopping center on Universal Boulevard, currently home to a handful of businesses such as Ararat Euro Food and Brazilian restaurant Ana's Kitchen, sits on 11.4 acres that are ripe for mixed-use development. (Bob Moser)
A strip mall for sale on Universal Boulevard, largely ignored by commercial buyers over the past 18 months, may be ripe for redevelopment as the tourism corridor’s next big mixed-use site in the wake of high-profile in-fill projects planned just blocks away on International Drive.
Covering 11.4 acres for two parcels at 7430 and 7488 Universal Blvd., the Republic Square retail center is currently home to a handful of dining and retail tenants but sees minimal traffic from I-Drive tourists. It’s been listed at $12.9 million since Fall 2013. It has drawn little interest thus far from developers.
What the property has going for it is Orlando’s most flexible zoning designation, Activity Center 3 (AC-3/SP), which allows for a liberal mix of office, residential, commercial and dining uses. With its current 200-foot height restriction, the Republic Square property could boast up to 2,280 multifamily units, as much as 745,000 square feet of commercial floor space, or any mix of the two.
"From entertainment to hospitality and more, that zoning allows for any designation that Orlando allows. No rezoning will be needed there for future developers," said Greg McNutt, broker on the property for Ciminelli Real Estate. "So someone with some vision who sees the value in re-purposing that property would have quite a bit of latitude."
It’s not common to build out to those maximum densities because of physical limits and parking requirements. But with mixed-use tower development and multiple five- or nine-story parking garages on site, there are few creative limits on a property this size, said Dean J. Grandin, Jr., Orlando planning division manager.
“At 11-plus acres, this is a fairly sizable area, and if you’re looking for a readily assembled parcel there may be value to that,” Grandin said. “I think we can recognize that as I-Drive continues to evolve there will be opportunities like this to redevelop sites. It would be interesting to see what would happen on a site like this.”
The parcels are owned by Republic Properties Inc., a firm owned in part by a member of the royal family of the United Arab Emirates. Republic spent a total of $6.54 million in 1993 and 2003 to acquire the two parcels, while $3.75 million was the most recent total assessed value of the two properties by the Orange County Property Appraiser.
“The owner has been happy to hold this ($12.9 million) sale price since 2013,” McNutt said. “It hasn’t been viewed by the retail community as a viable option until now in its current form, but with the recent mixed-use activity from big projects like the I-Drive 360, Skyplex entertainment complex and more, I think this could now be seen as a site for similar development.”
The difference with those notable mixed-use projects in development is that they acquired prime real estate on International Drive.
Republic Square's location, at Carrier Drive and Universal Boulevard, is valued less because it doesn't draw regular tourist traffic, said Ray Hayhurst, senior director of capital markets at Cushman & Wakefield in Orlando. 
"It's a significant assemblage of land for which there has been little demand so far. There are other sizable parcels in that area that will compete with this, like space south of Artegon (Marketplace) on North International Drive," he said. "But whoever does the next major project in that area will certainly look at this." 
Future development at Republic Square would likely be limited to 200 feet in height because the property is not in the overlay district for I-Drive, which allows exemptions for height limits.
The potential size of a mixed-use project on 11.4 acres would also probably trigger requirements for a master plan to be presented to Orlando’s municipal planning board, Grandin said.
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