Orlando-based Unicorp National Developments is trying to purchase up to 100 acres of undeveloped land on Universal Boulevard for its next blockbuster project, which would combine retail, entertainment and lodging as a "dense urban development" a block east of International Drive, CEO Chuck Whittall told GrowthSpotter.
"We're looking at the former Stan Thomas property, which is now with Colony Capital, and are open to as little as 20 acres up to 100," Whittall said. "We've made an offer and are now just waiting on the seller." Unicorp is the developer behind major local projects such as I-Drive 360 and Trader Joe's supermarket in Dr. Phillips.
"We think there is more room for mixed-use entertainment projects in that (I-Drive) corridor, and there's no more property available near I-Drive for what we envision," he added.
The land is located on the eastern side of Universal Boulevard between W. Sand Lake Road and North Plaza Avenue, across the street from the I-Drive 360. It is currently zoned agriculture and would require rezoning as a Planned Development (PD).
Whittall said the property lends itself to Traditional Neighborhood Development (TND), which is a comprehensive planning system that includes a variety of housing types in a defined area. Celebration and Avalon Park are two local examples of TND, which features a planning format with a rich network of paths, streets and lanes that promotes walkability.
A deal hasn't been reached because the group that Unicorp is talking with doesn't own the property yet.
Colony Capital, an international investment firm based in Santa Monica, Calif., is in the process of acquiring 500 acres on Universal Boulevard through a foreclosure process. The current owner, Fourth Quarter Properties 129 LLC, was one of the companies owned by Atlanta-area developer Stan Thomas.
Thomas borrowed $150 million against the 500 acres of property, a note which was later sold to a consortium of lenders, which sold it to Colony Capital. Thomas defaulted on the loan, and transition of ownership of the property to Colony Capital through foreclosure is still not complete.
A search of public records could not confirm what the timeline may be for that foreclosure process to be complete, and Colony Capital did not respond to requests for comment on Thursday.
Thomas and his then-partner, Marc Watson, at one time owned more than 2,000 acres east of I-Drive, where they proposed grandiose plans through the mid- and late-2000s of a retractable-roof baseball stadium, new arena for the Orlando Magic, and mixed-use projects with hotels, a golf course and more, according to past coverage by the Orlando Sentinel.
The land along Universal Boulevard was originally owned by Lockheed Martin Corp., which sold it in 1998 to then Universal Studios for possible expansion of its theme park. Thomas and Watson bought most of the property from Universal in 2003 and debuted their own development plans in the years that followed.
Companies controlled by Thomas owed $1.7 million in overdue property taxes on parts of his Universal Boulevard property in 2009, 2010 and 2011. In addition to tax debt, some of Thomas' local corporate holdings were foreclosed on over the past five years by banks and private investors.