Design evolves & MPB approval follows for Banner's 13-story plan on E. Livingston

It took a few rounds of design and some thick skin during public feedback sessions, but Illinois-based multifamily developer Banner Real Estate Group earned a recommended approval on Tuesday from Orlando's Municipal Planning Board for the rezoning and road abandonment needed to precede a 13-story mixed-use apartment building. 

Banner's design of the project has evolved considerably with civil engineer Kimley-Horn and architect Baker Barrios, since the concept plan was first reported here in late April.

After getting feedback from the Appearance Review Board and two community meetings in August over concerns of compatibility and transition with the neighborhood, the team opted for imitation as the sincerest form of flattery. 

The project's five-story parking garage on the property's east side now features a brick facade, as do the first five stories of residential units, taking a design cue from the Trinity Lutheran Church directly across E. Livingston Street.

The remaining eight upper floors and western and southern faces of the building feature a glass facade that is more in line with neighboring high-rises the Orange County Courthouse and Skyhouse apartments building.

"We think it's a nice blend of architectural features that stitch together the styles" of the neighborhood's most prominent buildings, said Wayne Dunkelberger, principal with Baker Barrios.

This would be Banner's entry to the Central Florida market, with a proposed six-parcel assemblage totaling about 1.77 acres at 108 E. Livingston St., on the southeast corner with N. Rosalind Avenue. 

Banner was seeking approval for a partial street abandonment, rezoning of the six parcels, and amendment to the Growth Management Plan's Future Land Use Map from the city's MPB on Tuesday. The recommended approval will now go before City Council on Oct. 23.

The project's latest conceptual site plan calls for 389 units, 14,000 square feet of ground-floor retail, a five-story parking garage and amenities like a dog run and swimming pool deck with view of Lake Eola. 

Banner's next step will be taking the conceptual plans to full schematic phase, which could be ready next week from Baker Barrios. Those would then be shown to three general contractor finalists invited to bid so they can refresh their proposals, Director of Development Tom Suminski told GrowthSpotter on Tuesday. 

Closing on the land purchase is estimated for late March 2018, with a groundbreaking in April, he added. Total project cost is now estimated near $88 million, and a construction loan covering up to 65 percent will likely be sought.

Along Rosalind Avenue the building's base frontage would feature retail and creative landscaping in a curvilinear public plaza, currently designed with a water feature, built-in seating and a trellis that invites visitors to congregate. 

Banner envisions the plaza entry point on Rosalind to benefit from increased foot traffic toward Lake Eola in the future, as Creative Village is populated and more office and multifamily development occurs north of the property.

No tenants have been signed for the retail space, and any brand names shown on previous renderings were just placeholders, Suminski said. The company has yet to hire a local brokerage firm to market the space.

The proposed building's north side along Livingston Street would have five street-level units that are two-story loft residences. 

Jill Rose, MPB member and vice president of retail services for BishopBeale, questioned the developer's limited parking allotted for retail customers on the parking garage's ground floor and along Livingston Street. 

Banner is requesting a waiver of 23 percent of the parking requirements for a mixed-use building its size, considered acceptable because it's a Transit-Oriented Development in a downtown where the city wants to improve walkability. But Rose said she's seen first-hand how some downtown mixed-use buildings with limited parking are struggling to attract or retain retail tenants. 

The developer is also requesting a density bonus (increase from 200 units per acre to 400). City planning staff said it now meets those requirements by staggering the building's 13-story elevation downward on the east side to its five-story garage, providing a smoother transition to the Landmark Center office building's two-story parking garage.

The project's design must still go back before ARB in the coming months before its construction plans are approved. Staff said in August with a density bonus and rezoning the city must get "superior design" in return for a key downtown intersection.

The Livingston-Rosalind intersection is one of the busiest in Downtown Orlando, and because of the curve of Rosalind Avenue, the extensive street frontage of that side of the building will be highly visible from multiple vantage points. 

The south facade of the building is especially important because it would terminate the view northward along Rosalind Avenue from the S.R. 408 overpass, similar to how the CNL II tower terminates the vista for those traveling south on Orange Avenue through downtown. 

Staff wrote in August that Baker Barrios' design at the time wasn't distinctive or unique enough to warrant such a prime location. They called it "nothing more than a bigger, denser, more massive version of recent mid-rise sisters" like the 420 East apartments and Central Station on Orange.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at bmoser@growthspotter.com, (407) 420-5685 or @bobmoser333. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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