The parent company of Ripley Entertainment Inc. is relaunching plans to develop a vacant site near the future Epic Universe theme park in Orlando, only this time the Canadian conglomerate is seeking to build warehouses instead of a shiny new office complex.
Winter Park-based Whitley Capital LLC was listed in plans recently submitted in the South Florida Water Management District as the developer of a 155,400-square-foot warehouse at 9545 S. John Young Parkway.
Going off the company’s history, Whitley Capital is likely working out a deal with the property owner, Ripley Entertainment’s parent company Jim Pattison Group, to help it develop a new speculative industrial project.
Stephen Whitley, founder and president of Whitley Capital declined to comment.
The 21-acre site was once rumored to be the future headquarters for the entertainment company, but those assumptions were shut down in 2018 when spokeswoman Suzanne Smagala-Potts denied claims. The vacant land was, and remains, surplus property for Jim Pattison Group.
Only about 2.5 miles away from the Orange County Convention Center, the development site lies on the southeast corner of Commerce Park Drive and S. John Young Parkway, with easy access to the Martin Andersen Beachline Expressway (S.R. 528) and Florida’s Turnpike.
Records show a company tied to Jim Pattison Group paid $3.3 million for the property in 2015. Originally, the company planned to build two, 3-story office buildings, each spanning about 120,000 square feet, but plans fell through.
Ripley Entertainment’s headquarters and archives currently occupy 40,000 square feet of space in an industrial park at 7576 Kingspointe Parkway. It’s located just east of Tangelo Park and north of W. Sand Lake Road, about three miles northwest of the subject property along S. John Young Parkway.
Conceptual plans show Whitley Capital is helping build a two-phase industrial project with the first phase consisting of a 155,4000-square-foot warehouse on the lower half of the property. A second phase is suggested in plans to accommodate another warehouse similar in size.
Features in the submitted designs include rear-load dock access, truck parking and truck bay parking.
Bo Bradford, a principal at Lee & Associates Central Florida, believes the site is a prime location for future industrial development.
“If that’s the move [Ripley Entertaiment] is making, it’s a very prudent one,” Bradford said. “The bullseye for distribution has historically been the Beachline Expressway and Florida’s Turnpike. That intersection, if you’re in the warehousing businesses, that’s where you want to be.”
The surplus land along S. John Young Parkway isn’t the only property Jim Pattison Group’s Ripley Entertainment owns in Orlando. The company also owns a roughly 40-acre assemblage of land on Universal Boulevard that neighbors Topgolf and Andretti Indoor Karting & Games.
Plans for the site have not yet surfaced. Attempts to reach representatives at the company were not successful.
Ripley Entertainment operates over 100 attractions under different brands around the world, including Believe It or Not!, Louis Tussaud’s Waxworks, Ripley’s Aquariums and Guinness World Records museums.
Meanwhile, Whitley Capital is an active industrial developer in Orange County. The company is helping entitle land in east Orange County to feature more than 260,000 square feet of industrial space. The property sits within the boundaries of Tavistock Development Company’s 24,000-acre Sunbridge master-planned community.
Prior to founding Whitley Capital, he served as a senior vice president at Liberty Property Trust for more than 20 years.
Last year, Whitley Capital sold about 72 acres of land it helped zone to allow for about 830,000 square feet of industrial space for $21 million to an entity tied to Brookfield, after investing $12.2 million assembling the site in 2019. The property is located just off the southwest corner of S. Orange Avenue and W. Taft Vineland Road, near the Orlando International Airport.
There continues to be a steady demand for industrial space in Central Florida as more businesses weigh heavier importance on last-mile-delivery services. The region’s steady population growth, along with a sharp increase in online shopping and push for shorter delivery times, helped propel more e-commerce tenants to enter and expand in the market.
According to a first-quarter report by Lee and Associates, absorption of lease inventory was up 34% over the fourth quarter and vacancy rates dropped to about 5%, the lowest vacancy rate the market has seen since the mid 2000′s.
Just over 1.2 million square feet of industrial square feet was absorbed in the first quarter, according to the report. Asking rental rates are steadily climbing with market product type rent asking about $7.77 per square foot.
In all his 30 years of experience in the market, Bradford said he’s “never seen a more robust active industrial environment.”
“There’s a tremendous appetite for it right now.... [Inventory] can’t keep up.”