Disney closing in on new buyer for Celebration Island Village

The Celebration Company (TCC) has a buyer lined up for Island Village, the fifth and final residential village in Disney's master-planned community.

The Disney subsidiary began actively marketing the 340-acre site with CBRE in Fall 2016. Located south of the World Drive interchange, Island Village was part of the master development plan for Celebration. It's entitled for 1,010 single-family homes and 300 apartments or townhomes. 

GrowthSpotter first reported last September that TCC had reached an agreement with Osceola County Schools to donate land and funding for a new K-5 school in Celebration. That agreement, which called for the school to be completed in time for the 2019 school year, is critical for the expansion.

TCC previously had a deal with North Carolina-based Crescent Communities for Island Village, but the developer backed out in 2016. Disney Senior Real Estate Manager Henry Thrash told Osceola School officials in June the company had found a new developer. 

"Good news is we have a buyer in due diligence for Island Village and they are almost done with their project schedule," Thrash wrote in an email to Rhonda Blake, planning director for the school district.

GrowthSpotter obtained the email chain setting up a private, off-campus meeting at TCC offices between Blake and the buyer/developer through an open record request. 

School district officials have refused to say who they met with. The district's attorney told GrowthSpotter no one from the district took notes at the meeting, during which they negotiated a new schedule for planning, design and construction of the school.

But the School Board is expected to vote Aug. 15 on an amendment to the TCC agreement extending the project timeline by one year.

Several of the Celebration area's leading real estate agents and brokers were invited to participate in a focus group earlier this month for the developer.

"They brought in seven or eight of the highest volume agents in Celebration," Jeffrey Eddows of Century 21 Blue Sky told GrowthSpotter. "They wanted to find out what type of homes are appealing to buyers. Their wants and needs."

Eddows said the developer used a third-party firm to facilitate the program, which never disclosed who they were working for. "We all asked and got very little information. Afterward, we were all trying to figure it out." 

Imagination Realty's Kathy Carlson was also a part of the focus group.  "I do a lot of focus groups because I've been here forever, and I've done about $35 million in town," she said.

They both told the facilitators that the key to selling a lot of homes quickly in Island Village is to make it "feel like Celebration." In other words, to replicate the feeling that makes South Village and East Village so popular.

"What people are looking for is single-story homes," Eddows said. "They don't want to feel like they're right on top of each other. People want a variety of lot sizes -- from estates to gardens to village lots. They want a more traditional Celebration feel."

Carlson said first-floor masters are critical. "None of the David Weekley homes had first-floor masters," she said. "They eventually sold out, but it took forever."

Carlson said she wouldn't be surprised if the developer introduces a "Carriage House" product in Island Village as a way to build density. A carriage home is an attached multi-story product, typically with two or three bedrooms and all of the living space on one floor.

"I do a lot of work in Naples," she said. "Carriage homes are very popular there."

Nectar Real Estate's Keith Renner said focus group members told the facilitator it's important to mix homes of different styles and price points in the same neighborhood. 

"That's a part of the charm of Celebration," he said. "I hope they do a mix of homes. I think there will be high demand for estate homes, too. Hopefully, they'll do what Disney did at Golden Oak and have a list of approved builders for the estates." 

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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