Sciame Construction founder Frank Sciame gave Osceola commissioners a glimpse of his vision Monday for the $1 billion NeoCity town center and for the first time announced he has brought on a co-developer with decades of experience and a career portfolio in excess of 30 million square feet.
Edward J. Minskoff Equities, EJME, owns and manages institutional quality real estate in major urban centers. Working alongside Sciame, the developer has completed landmark office buildings and mixed-used projects such as 101 Avenue of the Americas and 51 Astor Place, home to IBM Watson headquarters.
“We really do not get involved with anything unless it’s really special,” Sciame told GrowthSpotter. “And I think that this is a real opportunity to do something extremely special. That’s why we put together what I really think is the A-plus team.”
He chose Minskoff because the developers both saw NeoCity as a blank canvas, and they shared a vision for a dynamic project that would add housing, offices, retail and performing arts to the tech district. Edward Minskoff was impressed by Osceola County’s focus on attracting high-paying tech jobs to NeoCity by investing in the Center for NeoVation, the county’s first Class-A office building and the NeoCity Academy stem school.
“The NeoCity combination of R&D activity, tech education, primary chip fabrication, rich cultural amenities and varied recreation options sets it apart from other like planned developments that are primarily focused on renting apartments,” Minskoff said. The project will mark the Florida entry for both Sciame and Minskoff.
Some of the features they carried over include energy-efficient designs such as green roofs and solar arrays. The performing arts center and adjacent hotel would anchor the waterfront plaza, and a pedestrian bridge would span the lake, linking the cultural center to the mixed-use district. Smart technology will be a key component, Senior VP Steve Colletta said, but it will be incorporated in a way that allows for future expansion and adaptation.
“You don’t plan it for today, right?” he said. “You plan the infrastructure for what’s going to exist in the future. So NeoCity will have the infrastructure built in place to accommodate the evolving growth of technology, which is absolutely critical.”
One such example is that parking garages will be designed with vertiports to allow for air travel between NeoCity and Lake Nona utilizing high-speed, electric vertical takeoff and landing (eVTOL) aircraft.
But the new developer will be looking for some modifications to the development agreement the county had entered into in January with DSUS, founded by Korean tech magnate Young-hwa Song, who sold his development interest to Sciame.
The conceptual development plan for Phase 1 outlined in the original conveyance agreement called for 1,150 condominiums with nearly 400,000 square feet of amenities and common space as well as a 1.4 million-square-foot retail and entertainment hub situated along the lakefront in Neocity. The town center would include a commercial office tower, a dining and retail center with a movie theater, a 200-room conference hotel with about 100,000 square feet of convention/exhibition space and an entertainment hall with a 700-seat event center.
Sciame said the master plan needs to be revised to adjust to post-pandemic market conditions. That likely means it will have fewer residential units and less office space.
“We did tweak the master plan because when the master plan was created, it was four years ago,” he said. “It was pre-pandemic, and things have changed. So we had to adjust to that, and I think in a very positive way. It’s good that there was this pause, because now we’re able to take a look at what it really should be like.”
The first phase would include three mixed-use residential buildings with a maximum height of 85 feet, while the hotel and office towers could be taller. The developer will create a main-street corridor along NeoCity Way that leads to the cultural center, where the performing arts center will be an architectural beacon for the waterfront.
“The first 25 acres in Phase One is really heavily focused on work-live-play community, focused on the public experience,” Colletta said. “It’ll have a variety of food and beverage options, retail, shaded plazas, with public art for people to enjoy performing arts and then access to lake amenities. And it’s really the type of community that we feel will create a sense of place to support the job growth and investment in Osceola County.”
“And then there will be a series of restaurants retail grocery along the edge of the water leading to the public plaza, which we envision some of the performing arts program bleeding into the plaza. And then with Office and hotel components and then, of course, access to the lake.”
Minskoff is known for incorporating public art into his developments, such as The Bluffs at Playa Vista, and exhibiting pieces from his vast private collection. SHoP’s Luisa Mendez told commissioners that each public plaza in the city center will feature public art and all roads will lead to the waterfront.
The Board of County Commissioners agreed in April to grant DSUS a 120-day extension because of the change in ownership from Song to Sciame. On Monday the board approved an amendment to the conveyance agreement redefining the exclusivity period so that it corresponds with the Project Milestones established in the Original Agreement.
“These world-class developers design, develop, maintain, and refurbish some of the most recognizable buildings around the world,” said Board Chairman Brandon Arrington. “And for them to be leading the efforts to develop NeoCity’s City Center is further confirmation that NeoCity is a regional game-changer.”
SHoP Architects founding principal William Sharples said the team pulled its inspiration from other great cities by focusing on open green spaces and activating the waterfront. “NeoCity meets the challenges of the future with intelligence and beauty—even in the first phase, all the elements of a great city are there.”
Added Colletta: “It’s the right place, the right location, the right time, the right state. And, you know, we’re very bullish on the future.”
The Sciame/EJME joint venture will pay $565,000 per acre for the first 25 acres, for a total of $14.125 million, and holds the exclusive negotiating rights for an additional 45 acres at a price to be determined later. The addition of Minskoff brings added value because of his experience delivering complex, large-scale projects dating back to his time as CEO of Olympia & York when he developed the 7.5-million-square-foot World Financial Center on lower Manhattan’s Hudson River waterfront.
Colletta said he sees parallels between Minskoff’s approach to World Financial Center and NeoCity. “And this is where Edward had the vision of building 7 million square feet on spec because he believed that if you build you couldn’t just build one office right in the middle of this large patch of dirt.,” he explained. “You had to build multiple office buildings, retail, you had to build it all at the same time.”
The county’s investment in NeoCity has continued to draw private investment to the E192 corridor. Just a few weeks ago, Dallas-based Lantower Residential paid $15.5 million in late June for Valencia Village, a 16.4-acre development site at the gateway entrance to NeoCity. The developer plans a 381-unit luxury apartment community.
Just east of the property is the recently completed 14 Fifty NeoCity luxury apartment community, formerly NeoSquare, where leases for a one-bedroom apartment start at $1,731. Across the street, Park Square Commercial is building the 287-unit Aston Square luxury apartment community.