UPDATED: OCTOBER 28, 2016 12:19 PM — The St. Cloud City Council voted Thursday night to sell a vacant lot near City Hall to ADMC Design, in exchange for the firm's promise to build a 10-15 story mixed-use tower with an attached parking garage.
The international construction company, founded by Albanian-born Albert Leka, has invested heavily this year in downtown St. Cloud. Under the terms of the deal, ADMC will have five years to add at least $10 million in new taxable value in the city.
"This is a home run for the city," Deputy Mayor Jeff Rinhart said. He praised Leka's artistic vision, and said the project would have a "mammoth" impact on the city's tax base.
City Manager Joe Helfenberger said Leka has become a key partner in the city's effort to rejuvenate its downtown. "And the tax base generated will provide the revenue to help with further renovation – not only downtown but in the CRA district," he said.
Leka, who opened a U.S. office in Orlando this year, presented his modern glass and concrete concept to the City Council on Thursday night. The new tower would be the tallest building in St. Cloud, and would overlook the city's new Centennial Park and the historic St. Cloud Hotel, which Leka bought in mid June.
Leka said he was drawn to St. Cloud because of its history and small-town charm, and he wants the new tower to "be a landmark" for the area. The building's height would be dictated by demand, but the initial plan calls for a business center on the ground floor, two to four floors of offices, 77 luxury apartments and a restaurant on the top floor. An attached parking garage would accommodate 180 vehicles with ground floor retail and a park on the top level.
City Councilman Russell Holmes praised the design. "What you're doing on the top of the parking garage, I wish more people would do that," he said. "I wish you the best of luck."
Helfenberger said the sale is contingent on ADMC delivering to the city a set of plans for a multilevel parking structure with at least 250 spaces designed to be built on a city-owned lot across the street. The plans must be in the city's possession before permits will be issued for the tower.
"If that doesn't happen, he owes the city $250,000,"Helfenberger said.
The rest of the deal is structured in three phases. Phases 1 and 2 are already underway. Phase 1 includes improvements to the historic Hunter Arms Hotel, which Leka purchased in September for $900,000. That property at 1029 New York Ave. will continue to operate as a hotel.
Leka said he plans to repaint the 91-year-old building a lighter color and add more windows and greenery.
Phase 2 comprises the renovation and historic preservation of the St. Cloud Hotel at 1004 New York Ave. GrowthSpotter first reported in July that Leka had purchased the 106-year-old hotel across from City Hall for $550,000.
ADMC is in the midst of a $1 million renovation, converting that hotel's upper floors into luxury apartments or condos, and Leka plans to introduce his own European-style coffee bistro, Luminous, to the hotel's ground floor.
He told City Council he also reached a deal to bring an Italian restaurant to the hotel. The exterior would resemble a Parisian boutique hotel, with white paint, a black roof and black window shutters, he said.
Construction on Phase 3 -- the mixed-use tower and parking deck -- must start by Oct. 15, 2017, and receive a certificate of occupancy by Dec. 20, 2022. The tower will include a mix of retail, offices and residential uses.
The three projects combined must add at least $10 million in new taxable value to the city.
If Leka fails to start construction on the mixed-use tower, the property would revert back to the city. "So at the worst, the city would have free plans for the parking ramp plus $250,000," Helfenberger said.
ADMC is known for massive building and infrastructure projects in Europe and the Middle East, including stadiums, train stations and high rises.
"I've heard a lot of positive comments from the community, and they're excited about having the two hotels renovated," Helfenberger said.
An Albanian national who was raised in Greece, Leka started a small metal workshop in 2002 that evolved into Assaco Design Metal Construction, a full-service construction company with more than 500 employees.
Leka told GrowthSpotter he plans to scale his U.S. business to the same size as his offices in Qatar and Albania, and compete for large-sale infrastructure projects here in Florida.