Anchored by two massive resorts -- Reunion and ChampionsGate -- central Florida's Four Corners area is booming with new construction, housing, and thousands of vacation homes.
The convergence of Lake, Orange, Osceola and Polk counties is tucked between two of central Florida's largest economic drivers -- Orlando's theme parks and Polk County's fast-growing distribution warehouses. As defined by the U.S. Census Bureau, Four Corners includes four major tourism corridors: Interstate 4, U.S. 192, U.S. 27 and S.R. 429.
"We had the period of time where nothing was built during the recession," said Steve Silcock, a local real estate broker and chairman of the Kissimmee Osceola Chamber's Four Corners Area Council. "Now what you see is all the major developers are back and building."
Those rooftops are generating more medical offices, retail and restaurants. Two charter schools have opened in Four Corners, and Polk County is building a new K-8 school to serve the area. "We're not seeing any single type of development dominating," Silcock said.
"I don't know if there's any other corridor in the Orlando market that has this much dirt moving around," said March Reicher, Senior VP for ChampionsGate developer RIDA.
Homebuilder Lennar, approved for 3,000 homes at ChampionsGate, bought and rebranded the former Stoneybrook development and launched the post-recession building boom. "I can tell you we're not finished at ChampionsGate by a long shot," Orlando Division President Brock Nicholas told GrowthSpotter. "We've learned an awful lot because we came to market first."
The company has already sold 650 units -- a combination of townhomes, vacation rental homes and permanent homes at Champions Club.
But that's just part of the vision. This year ChampionsGate is getting more restaurants, a 308-unit class-A apartment complex and another 24,000-square feet of retail and dining. The sprawling resort straddles Osceola and Polk counties, and much of that property is undeveloped.
"We are in the process of activating Polk with a new product we didn't have before," Reicher told GrowthSpotter.
RIDA is negotiating with a local developer to build a $50 million active adult community with assisted living on Ronald Reagan Parkway. The 120-unit Portofino affordable housing development will also break ground this year.
RIDA has also filed preliminary permits for a 70,000-square-foot expansion of the Oscoela County Conference Center, along with more villas and a water park at the Omni International Hotel.
ChampionsGate master developer RIDA Development is finalizing plans for a 70,000-square-foot expansion the Osceola County Conference Center. The county has pledged $21.5 million toward the project, which also includes construction of villas, apartments, retail and a water park at the Four Corners resort.
"Four Corners is some of the hottest property in all of Orlando," Encore Managing Director Jim Bagley told GrowthSpotter. "We're selling about 25 vacation homes a month. At full buildout, we're going to have 5,000 (short-term) rental units."
The South Florida developer is about to open an $18 million water park and clubhouse at Reunion, as well as a new dining pavilion with seating for 600 people. Last month, Encore filed preliminary plans for 300-room hotel with attached conference center and sound stages.
Bagley discussed the hotel project with GrowthSpotter, but said the formal announcement and details won't be released until the second quarter.
"The need for a hotel has always been there," Bagley said. "We were missing an opportunity with business travelers who still wanted to experience the resort but didn't need all the space they get in a vacation home."
Villa Domani, a 63-unit boutique vacation home community on Lake Wilson Road, is set to break ground this summer. Longtime Realtor Lucia Camara told GrowthSpotter she worked closely with her architect to create a "fusion of Tuscan and Modern Industrial" design.
"This project is totally my vision," she said. "I've been thinking about it for years. I knew exactly what I wanted."
The $23 million project is walking distance to Reunion. Camara has a contract on another parcel and envisions a mixed-use project there. "The reason I chose that location specifically is because it's already a vacation home paradise," she said.
Minto Communities' Festival in Polk County has been successful by offering a more affordable vacation rental product.
Bill Bullock, senior vice president of Minto Florida, said the townhome community will be built in five "pods," each with about 100 units. He said Minto will break ground on the second phase later this year.
Festival townhomes offer high bedroom counts starting in the $230,000 price range, and buyers can purchase two connected units. The confetti-colored paint scheme was carefully chosen, meant to be an eye-catcher that takes advantage of Festival's mile and a quarter of frontage on I-4.
"Being in this immediate area and having all these communities that offer something unique, it offers synergy among builders," Bullock told GrowthSpotter. "It's good for the consumer – when you have a lot of competition. You need unique opportunity, otherwise you just blend in."
The competition is also driving up land prices, Lennar's Nicolas said. "Sellers are really proud of what they own, and home prices have increased but not at the same pace of the cost of land, permitting, labor and materials," he said.
Each builder caters to different buyer segments. Some market primarily to South Americans and Europeans, while others focus on Canadian and domestic buyers.
"We see an increasing demand from domestic customers because people are noticing the values rise in real estate," Nicholas said. "We're building a very high-end home and community, so we've attracted a lot of retirees and mature buyers. We do not deal with the first time buyer at all in ChampionsGate. We see mostly move up, retiree and empty nest buyers."
In Orange County, the long-dormant Grand Palisades Resort will reopen later this year as The Grove Resort & Spa. The Orlando Sentinelreported in January that the new owner had hired Benchmark Hospitality to manage the 890-unit condo hotel after investing $10 million in upgrades.
The still largely-undeveloped Lake County corner is poised for growth as development moves south along S.R. 27 from Clermont. In preparation, a group of large landowners in the area worked with county planners to proactively create a master plan for 15,471 acres in Southwest Lake, with the goal to get ahead of the development with a plan for orderly desired development.
The land, dubbed Wellness Way, stretches west of the Orange County line and south to meet the boarder with Osceola and Polk counties.
All of the developers GrowthSpotter interviewed agreed that Four Corners lags behind other markets in development of commercial product.
"The biggest need in the market is for more retail, dining and entertainment," Encore's Bagley said. "We feel like we're going to satisfy that at Margaritaville Resort. We're doing 200,000 square feet of retail and dining at Margaritaville. We're going to deliver a great RDE experience."
The 300-acre Jimmy Buffet-themed resort, now under construction near the intersection of U.S. 192 and S.R. 429, will feature more than 500 vacation homes built, a huge public water park and a 324-unit apartment complex. Bagley said the apartments are a key component because of the lack of affordable workforce housing in the area. Margaritaville Resort alone will create 700 full-time jobs, he said.
Two other large apartment complexes are permitted on U.S. 27 in Polk. SunPark Company has yet to break ground on Champions Vue, a 326-unit class-A complex with a retail component. North Carolina-based Goldberg Residential is awaiting final permits to start construction on phase one of Callawalk, another class-A apartment community approved for 648 units.
"It's going to be a gated community with granite counters, first-class amenity package and 9-foot ceilings," developer Greg Nichols told GrowthSpotter.
Silcock, from the chamber, said Four Corners' future is bright. "There's so much going on down here. Our Four Corners challenge is exactly that – it's a four corners challenge. We'd like to see uniform regulations for all four jurisdictions - some type of overlay district."
-- Correspondant Teresa Burney contributed to this report