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Sleuths Mystery owners, key to Whittall's 76-acre I-Drive revamp, in no mood to sell

Sleuths Mystery owners, key to Whittall's 76-acre I-Drive revamp, in no mood to sell
Located at 8267 International Dr., the 5.37-acre parcel owned by the Redmond family lies directly between roughly 68 semi-contiguous acres owned by Unicorp National Developments, east of I-Drive between W. Sand Lake Road and Via Mercado. (Orange County Property Appraiser)

The Redmond family, owners of a 5.37-acre parcel home to their Sleuths Mystery Dinner Theater on International Drive, "have little to no interest in selling" the parcel to Unicorp National Developments for the sweeping redevelopment it envisions of 76 acres that include the property, co-owner Sandra Redmond told GrowthSpotter on Wednesday.

Sleuths is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year in Orlando, after opening in August 1990 in leased space in the Republic Square strip mall on Universal Boulevard.

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Sandra Redmond and husband Gary later relocated the theater, buying the parcel at 8267 I-Drive in November 2004 for $2.7 million from an affiliate of Orlando-based Intram Investments. The property lies next to the Kings Plaza retail center, directly north of I-Drive 360.

Redmond, now 72, said she envisions the business and property remaining with her family for another 25 years. One daughter and a god-daughter are currently employed by the theater, along with a handful of grandchildren.

"I've always loved the theater. I've never been an actor but attended my whole life. I even started a community theater in Zephyr Hills back in the late 1960s, we did mostly comedies," she said.

Sandra and Gary met at a friends' party in 1989, both recently divorced, and "hit it off instantly," she remembers.

Gary had sold a "penny saver" publication he owned in Deland in the 1970s, was flush with cash and talked with friends of starting a mystery theater club. He was invited to write an original comedy mystery for a theater in Mount Dora, it was well-received and the script is used to this day in Sleuth's shows.

Married shortly thereafter, the Redmonds set out to open a theater in 1990, and Sandra was drawn to the I-Drive area. They've built it into a successful 25-year enterprise that has employed three generations of the family.

"I truly have little to no interest in selling, and there's not really a high price that would change my mind anytime soon," Redmond said. "Anyone who bought this would do so for reasons other than having Sleuths Mystery Dinner Shows here, and too many people count on us."

GrowthSpotter first reported on Nov. 17 that Unicorp CEO Chuck Whittall had a master plan to redevelop a 76-acre block over the next decade east of I-Drive, between W. Sand Lake Road and Via Mercado. Of that, Unicorp owns just over 68 semi-contiguous acres from the Wyndham Orlando Resort down to I-Drive 360.

Sprinkled in between those are properties owned by other parties, like the Ripley's Museum owned by the Orlando-based Ripley's Entertainment affiliate of Vancouver-based Jim Pattison Group (0.99 acres), Sleuth's Mystery Dinner Theater owned by the Redmond family out of Chuluota, Fla. (5.37 acres), and a Fairfield Inn and Suites fronting Universal Boulevard owned by an affiliate of Avista Hotels (1.89 acres).

Whittall said in a Nov. 22 story that his master plan would work around the existing Ripley's Museum and Fairfield Inn properties, but purchase of the 5.37-acre Sleuth's Mystery Dinner Theater parcel would be key to the redevelopment.

Redmond said Whittall approached her to buy the property within "the last few years," but offered less than what the outstanding mortgage value is for the property, currently around $2 million. She and husband Gary declined the offer, which included a promise of space they could lease in a new development on site.

Whittall acknowledged Wednesday that an offer was made in 2014 or earlier.

"We own all of the property around Redmond's (parcel), so at some point in time we'd like to sit down and talk again to make a deal that makes economic sense for both sides," he said.

The Sleuths property, and the Fairfield Inn owned by Avista to the east, include a valuable driveway that provides access to Universal Boulevard for their parcels, and the Kings Plaza property to the west owned by Unicorp.

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Redmond said she knows change is coming and supports new development along I-Drive.

"I'm sure there will be change around us, but I don't see anything we can't work with," she said. 'We get along with everyone else in Kings Plaza fine."

Of the parcel's 5.37 acres (234,014 gross square feet), 76,527 square feet is occupied by the building, while 157,488 square feet is dedicated stormwater retention area.

While two-thirds of her property is retention pond, Redmond said consultants have informed her that area could be developed by using a dry bed method, where pipes laid underground could funnel stormwater east of Universal Boulevard.

Orlando real estate sources told GrowthSpotter on Wednesday that Redmond has been negotiating with Ripley Entertainment, owner of the Ripleys Museum on I-Drive.

The museum borders Redmond's western edge of the parcel, and talks are ongoing to sell a portion of that stormwater retention to Ripley, which would fill it and expand the museum building by as much as 100 percent.

Sources requested anonymity due to the sensitive nature of ongoing negotiations. Ripley Entertainment's main office in Orlando did not respond to requests for comment.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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