For years John P. Albright, President and CEO of Consolidated-Tomoka Land Co., drove past the nearly dormant and neglected strip shopping center on Aloma Avenue at Howell Branch Road in Winter Park's postal code. Over the years it became less visible as shrubbery grew to obscure the view.
What the Winter Park resident could see was a shopping center sadly neglected by the real estate investment trust that owned it in a pool of joint venture projects. Albright said the shopping center's original anchor tenants, Publix, a bank, and a few others all moved out at once about five years ago to a new shopping center farther east.
But behind the over-grown hedges Albright also saw opportunity. The neighborhood around the shopping center is improving.
"Here was 14 acres with a large amount of frontage on Aloma and Howell Branch, half a mile from Trinity Prep and there are three or four new communities within a mile," including developments by Taylor Morrison, Meritage and Ryan Homes, said Albright. New rooftops equal more shoppers interested in nearby shopping.
So last December Albright's company bought the 100,000 square foot center for $3.1 million, according to property records. Tomoka Land Co. is a Florida-based publicly traded real estate company with a portfolio of income properties around the United States as well as more than 10,500 acres in the Daytona Beach area.
Since then Tomoka has tidied up the center, cutting back the over grown landscaping, sodding, cleaning the façade and taking down former tenant signage, Albright said. Other improvements are planned after new tenants sign up.
"We didn't want to dictate the tone of the center without knowing the audience," he said.
So now CBRE is looking for anchor tenants for the center, one for a 40,000-square-foot space and the other for a 15,000-square-foot space. The center is also being renamed and rebranded from Winter Park Palms to The Grove at Winter Park, said R. Bobby Palta, First Vice President, Brokerage Services, Retail Properties, which is handling leasing for the center.
Palta's challenge is making neighbors notice the shopping center again as a place where they would like to shop after years when it housed a series of random tenants including a Chinese restaurant, day care and a paint ball venue.
CBRE's Palta has come up with a unique way to advertise that the center is on the verge of a new beginning – food trucks.
He engaged Mark Baratelli, publisher of The Daily City blog, a high profile figure for good eats and sometimes known as the Pied Piper of food trucks, to bring the trucks to the center starting this Friday.
"There are 15 stops on the tour every month and this is a new stop on the tour. Once a month, for three hours, anywhere between seven and 10 trucks will be there," Baratelli said. "This is a way to get attention to the shopping center, which is amazing."