After several failed attempts, Orange County Public Schools is once again seeking to snag a developer willing to invest and redevelop its Wymore Road/Hungerford property in the Town of Eatonville.
Earlier this month, the School Board released what would be its third Request for Proposal (RFP) for the same 94-acre site along the east side of Interstate 4 that has sat untouched and unused for more than a decade.
The Robert Hungerford Preparatory School campus closed its doors in 2009, after a long run functioning as a private boarding school for Black students, before it was purchased by OCPS in 1951. After its closing, town and School Board members pledged to work together, and try to jump-start economic growth in Eatonville through the creation of a mixed-use town center on the property.
There are at least 30 planholders, including representatives at Baker Barrios Architects, NAK Design Strategies, Eden Site Development and Falcone Group.
In an email statement, OCPS General Counsel Amy Envall said their goal is to “find a community partner who can do justice to this historic site and turn it into a focal point for the Eatonville community. That would honor the legacy of the generations who attended this historic school.”
The RFP is seeking to select a developer capable of delivering an urban, pedestrian-friendly, infill community that mixes different housing products (rental or owner options) with uses that includes retail, restaurant, office and civic. The land use plan envisioned by the Town will allow up to 400 residential units, 800,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet of retail space.
Design criteria standards specify wanting a designated office development corridor fronting Wymore Road, a retail complex along Kennedy Boulevard and a civic/cultural arts area adjacent to the existing branch library.
“A properly developed mixed-use project could create the most significant real estate ad valorem tax increase seen in the town’s history,” Thomas Kohler, a senior director at the engineering and planning consulting firm GAI Consultants, told GrowthSpotter.
In the past, Kohler worked with city staff members to master plan a development on the site.
“Years ago we talked about a sense of place, somewhere to hold community gatherings and festivals next to the branch library... but those aren’t tax generators,” he said. “You need something else to pay for those amenities and that’s going to be through commercial real estate and low- to high-density residential real estate like single-family housing.”
But attempts to reel in a developer with the proper proposal and financing credentials have failed, not once or twice but several times.
In 2017, a purchase offer from UP Development won favorable approval by town members and School Board officials, but the company never made it to the development agreement stage, and walked away from plans altogether after placing the highest bid — valued at more than $20 million.
Before that, the town rejected an unrelated development plan in 2014 that sought to build a luxury car dealership, hotel and conference center on the property.
Tightening financial conditions and uncertainty about the duration and business impacts posed by the pandemic last year, also dampened turnout and investor interest in the previous solicitation sent out by OCPS. The RFP, which expired in late July, received zero bids.
“It’s a great piece of land that’s regionally and historically significant,” Trevor Hall, director of land services for Colliers International Central Florida, said. “So much can be put there, but there’s no doubt the pandemic has really changed everyone’s parameters as to what will go where and what you can finance.”
The property is one of the largest single-owner sites along the I-4 corridor between Sand Lake Road in Orange County and Lake Mary Boulevard in Seminole County.
Kyle Sanders of Sovereign Land Company attended the pre-bid conference last year, and told GrowthSpotter the company is considering responding to the most recent RFP.
Concerns about the price and composition of the property will be taken into consideration, he said. The company figures only about 51 acres of the 94 acres are developable after factoring in wetlands, infrastructure work, a Florida Department of Transportation easement and the Host Dime parcel, among others.
“The remaining developable area is very disjointed,” he said. “On top of that, the appraised value for 51 developable acres works out to almost $400,000 per acre, which seems extremely high for that location.”
Proposals must be delivered to the OCPS Procurement Services no later than 2 p.m. by March 9, 2021.