Osceola County is set to spend $3.48 million of tourist development tax money to buy a retail strip center at the back entrance of Osceola Heritage Park for future expansion of the venue.
County Commissioners approved the purchase contract on Oct. 16 for the property at 1912 Fortune Road. Built in 2008, the 22,000-square-foot strip center is currently home to Melao Bakery, one of the county's most popular Latin restaurants.
Dave Tomek, Osceola's community development administrator, told GrowthSpotter the county isn't looking to get into the landlord business. The ultimate goal is to swap the property with the restaurant owners for 1.8 acres of vacant land just down the road, where Melao Bakery had intended to build a new, expanded restaurant.
"The costs ended up being too high for them follow through," Tomek said on Tuesday. The owners approached the county about selling the vacant land, which sits at the corner of Fortune and Shake Rag roads, about two-tenths of a mile from their existing restaurant.
Osceola County wants the land so it can expand the outdoor concert venue, home to Runaway Country, and add more parking at the back of the complex for large events, like Silver Spurs Rodeo and Mecum Auto Auction.
"We never intended to actually buy the retail center," Tomek said. "We just wanted to negotiate a sale with Melao."
But when the shopping center owner -- developer and former county commissioner Randy Sheive -- put it on the market, the county snapped it up. "The idea is that we would either sell it or swap it with Melao. That way they could control the property and expand at their current location."
The county is scheduled to close on the purchase in early December. The contract includes a six-month leaseback to Sheive's SLS Investments, for $15 rent. During that time, he could collect a potential $182,000 in rental income from his current tenants while the county complete its due diligence and negotiations for the vacant land.
Melao owners Eduardo Colon and Denisse Torres bought the land in 2016 for $725,000. The county must get two appraisals before buying real estate.
Tomek said the county would close on the shopping center even if it can't reach a deal with the restaurant owners. Eventually, the site would be incorporated into an expanded OHP.
"At some point, if we need to do something with that building, we'll control it," he said.