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Kissimmee firm lands planning contract for SunRail Park

The Employment Center surrounding Osceola County's Poinciana SunRail station is highlighted in purple. Rj Whidden and Associates landed the deal to master plan the county's 82-acre site by highlighting the various projects it had already worked on in Poinciana, all outlined in red.
The Employment Center surrounding Osceola County's Poinciana SunRail station is highlighted in purple. Rj Whidden and Associates landed the deal to master plan the county's 82-acre site by highlighting the various projects it had already worked on in Poinciana, all outlined in red. (Rj Whidden & Associates)

Kissimmee-based Rj Whidden & Associates has earned the repeat business from Osceola County as the unanimous choice to master plan the county-owned land next to the Poinciana SunRail station.

President Bob Whidden assured the selection committee that his firm would come up with the best plan to help the county quickly recoup the nearly $9 million it paid for the 82-acre site.

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“You’re not only going to recoup that, but you will realize a very significant profit as well,” Whidden said, noting that the county could sell two multifamily sites for $9 million and still have about 50 acres left for stormwater management and other types of mixed-use or commercial development.

Rj Whidden created this conceptual plan for a mixed-use community center on Osceola County's Ham Brown Road.
Rj Whidden created this conceptual plan for a mixed-use community center on Osceola County's Ham Brown Road. (Rj Whidden & Associates)

The committee interviewed Whidden last week, along with the two other finalists, which only served to reinforce the position that it was best to go with the firm that has the longest track record with Osceola County and the most familiarity with the Poinciana area.

“We already have extensive knowledge and experience with the subject property,” Whidden said. “We were Avatar’s planners for decades. We’ve modified the vested rights of Poinciana PUD approximately 65 separate times.”

The fact that Whidden has already completed environmental studies for the site, having worked for the previous owner, gave the firm a competitive advantage over the others, LandDesign and Canin Associates.

Osceola County wants to get out ahead of new development by master planning the area southeast of St. Cloud now as a Mixed-Use district.

“I think this group will have a head start, in terms of timing,” Economic Development Director Tom Sunnarborg said. “And I want them to have a head start so that we, as the owner, can develop a strong point of view about what we want to see there before developers start telling us what has to be, in their mind.”

Sunnarborg said the county’s primary goals for the SunRail Park site are to recoup its investment and create affordable housing. He felt the two runner-up firms presented concepts that were focused more on high density Transit Oriented Design.

“You know, someday this may feel urban, but this is a very suburban site,” he said. “This is not a rail stop downtown, and most of their references to comparable projects were very urban TOD sites. And I don’t know that that’s a great place to start.”

Susan Caswell, assistant community development administrator, noted that the master plan should allow for the site – identified as a future employment center – to evolve into a more urbanized community over time. She said she was impressed with LandDesign’s approach to incorporating affordable housing in the master plan.

“What actually struck me was when LandDesign talked about the market rate units subsidizing the affordable units, and doing mixed-income housing,” she said. “To me, that’s something that is a value that you really want to think about, because it does make it more profitable, and it does mix those income groups, which is something you want to see.”

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

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