Longtime Kissimmee hotelier and developer George Chen is prepping for a $60 million infill redevelopment of his Formosa Gardens shopping plaza on W192 that would breathe new life into the once-thriving retail center.
Chen’s vision calls for the adaptive reuse of the vacant grocery store into a food hall and event space with a craft brewery, six floors of condominiums above and an attached parking garage and more condos on the adjacent 19-acre lot. Chen also would develop a future phase with an apartment building, townhomes and retail outparcels on the second parcel, which extends along Formosa Gardens Boulevard to the back gate of Margaritaville.
Orlando Brewing Co., the city’s first and only organic craft brewery, will relocate from its SoDo headquarters to Formosa Gardens in 2022. Chen said Orlando Brewing President John Cheek has signed a lease for 15,000 square feet of the former supermarket for a new brewery and tasting room.
“It really is a reinvention of the site,” Chen told GrowthSpotter. He built the shopping plaza in 1997 with a 50,000-square-foot Gooding’s supermarket as the anchor. The plaza had an Asian theme that complemented the neighboring Splendid China attraction, which Chen’s family owned, operated, and later sold to the developers of Margaritaville Resort.
“We were the Gooding’s flagship because of how much money the Gooding family put into the interior of the supermarket,” Chen said. “It was beautiful. It had animated figures, and it had small noodle shops and sushi stores that were just doing gangbusters business.”
The business suffered after the Gooding family sold the store to Winn-Dixie, which ended up closing it as part of a Chapter 11 reorganization in 2018. Chen said he tried, unsuccessfully, for two years to find another grocer to lease the space. Then COVID hit and put the brakes on his hotel and winery business. It also forced him to look at Formosa Gardens with a new set of eyes.
Chen said hosted an event earlier this year at his Island Grove Winery for business owners to meet Sen. Marco Rubio and thank him for his support of the Paycheck Protection Program and extended loan forgiveness. Chen received PPP loans for his hotel and winery.
“That pulled us through, thank God,” Chen said. “I am so indebted to the U.S. federal government. Through the years, I’ve paid maybe $30 million in taxes, but that PPP money came to us like manna from heaven. So once I got the PPP money, I started being able to rethink and plan, and to really actively think through what we needed to do — even during the pandemic — and to emerge out of this morass, out of this fire to come out like a phoenix reborn. So that’s my vision.”
It was at the Rubio event where Chen met Cheek, and the two quickly hit it off. Cheek had sold his SoDo location to Orlando Hospital and was looking to relocate. He expressed an interest in moving some of brewing equipment to the winery, but when he heard about the former Gooding’s, he asked to tour the building. Chen said he fell in love with the space and they put together a deal for the brewery to lease 15,000 square feet.
“So all of a sudden, because of the pandemic I found my first tenant,” he said. The brewery will reopen at Formosa Garden in 2022 while Chen goes through the design and permitting for the condo tower and food hall.
Ray Scott, CEO of Scott + Cormia, was instrumental in the design, which converts the existing retail center into a true mixed-use community. The residential buildings will be concrete construction and will require extensive engineering of the site to accommodate the foundation work and stormwater retention. Hanson, Walter & Associates is the civil engineer.
The design team is still experimenting with different configurations and unit counts for the residential components ranging from a few as 164 units to a max of 678. The team has a pre-application meeting Wednesday morning with Osceola County’s Development Review Committee to discuss the conceptual plan for the project.
The Formosa Gardens project would be the second major condo development slated for the quarter-mile stretch of U.S. 192 between Formosa Gardens Boulevard and Sherberth Road. Global developer Sternon Group is approved for a multiphased condo development overlooking Lake Wilson called Fortune Star. In September, the W192 Development Authority approved a $1.125 million catalyst grant for that project, which is estimated to cost $106 million over four phases.
Nearby at Margaritaville Resort, master developer Encore Capital is adding short-term rental townhomes, an Embassy Suites-branded condo-hotel and a new apartment complex. The Margaritaville Hotel also is building a 5-story addition to add 75 more rooms to the 4-star property.
Just across U.S. 192 in Orange County, Equinox has plans approved for a mixed-use development called Waterstar Orlando, which would have two apartment complexes, two hotels and 115,000 square feet of retail space.