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This is one of three empty downtown parcels that Eustis is planning to market to developers.
This is one of three empty downtown parcels that Eustis is planning to market to developers. (Teresa Burney)

Since 2003, Eustis has had a 4.8-acre hole in the heart of its downtown.

That's the year Florida Hospital Waterman moved out and tore down its aged hospital building, leaving a few blocks of emptiness in the city's center.

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On Thursday, the Eustis City Commission will vote on a two-year partnership agreement that city officials hope will lead to filling the void with new development, and build on Eustis' recent efforts in downtown revival.

If approved, the city will partner with the owners of the three parcels, which total 4.8 acres, to market the land to developers. The city would pay for designing and producing marketing materials and advertising the land. Either party could get out of the agreement with 10 days notice.

These three lots in downtown Eustis highlighted in red have been vacant since Waterman Hospital left town.
These three lots in downtown Eustis highlighted in red have been vacant since Waterman Hospital left town. (Lake County Property Appraiser)

"We are excited about it," said Frank Gaylord, an attorney representing the property owners. "The city goes to economic development conferences and they can take our property there and see if there is an interest in it.

"Our relationship with the city is really great right now, and I think we both want to get downtown going," he added.

The city proposal is to market three empty blocks that form an L-shape. The first and second lots run south to north between Magnolia Avenue and E. Clifford Avenue, and are bounded by Grove Street on the east and Eustis Street on the west.

The third parcel faces Lake Eustis and Bay Street on the west, Clifford Avenue on the north and McDonald Street on the south.

Parcels 1 and 3 are targeted for development, while Parcel 2, which is just south of the local post office, would likely be turned into a parking lot to support whatever development occurs on the other two lots, said Tom Carino, Eustis economic development director.

As part of the agreement, the city would expect Parcel 2 to be deeded to the city if a parking garage is necessary.

"If the developer requests a parking facility as part of the sale of Parcels 1 and 3, the City will seek funding for the construction," the agreement says.

Eustis Partners LLC, a private group of locals, owns Parcels 1 and 2, said Gaylord. Parcel 3 is owned by Lake Eustis Properties, an entity of the Lake Community Foundation, which Waterman Hospital created to hold its land. An independent board runs it.

Gaylord said that the landowners were prepared to develop the land in 2008, just as the recession was taking hold, but thought better of it.

"We made the right decision," he said.

Today's environment is different. The city's downtown has attracted several new successful restaurants and shops, and apartments have been built around downtown, Gaylord said.

"It's a simple fact, the more you have activity, the faster it grows," he said.

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Teresa Burney can be reached at 352-455-1955 or at Teresaburney4@gmail.comFollow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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