After years of dismal progress, Orange County Public Schools just made a significant step toward a long-anticipated deal that entails selling off more than 90 acres of land in Eatonville to a real estate group with ready-to-go plans to develop the property.
Of the four proposals received, an evaluation committee, consisting of six Orange County Pubilc School staff members, awarded its highest ranking to a bid and proposal from Margaritaville developer Falcone Group.
Following Falcone Group’s proposal, was a bid by a partnership between Sovereign Land Company and Keewin Real Property Company; DeBartolo Development and Orlando-based real estate investment group Upshot Capital Advisors; and last, a partnership between Winter Park-based commercial developer Chesterfield LLC, Atrium Management Company and Orlando-based PRN Real Estate & Investments.
Committee members met last week to discuss and rank the bids, each of which laid out plans to develop a prominent stretch of mostly vacant land along the east side of Interstate 4 in Eatonville.
Each proposal shows a different interpretation of what the property could become.
The CAP Team, made up of officials with Chesterfield, Atrium and PRN, tapped Baker Barrios Architects Inc. to help design the proposed mixed-use development. The team’s proposal included a downtown mixed-use corridor called Hurston Village (a homage to the famed Eatonville resident Zora Neale Hurston), as well as a 100,000-square-foot e-commerce center, a 24,000-square-foot research and training facility; and a 10,500-square-foot innovation lab. Hurston Village would feature 500 apartments, a waterfront park with a boardwalk, and a shipping container food truck park.
DeBartolo’s proposal focused on creating a town center with strong community-oriented programs such as Fleet Farming, which is a non-profit program that encourages growing farm-to-table options. In the envisioned concept, DeBartolo said it would dedicate 12,000 square feet for a food hall with event space. The development program features 860 multifamily units across three communities; 20 affordable homes; two, 100-key limited-service hotels; 18,000 square feet of retail space; a free-standing emergency room; and 3-story medical office buildings across a total of 73,000 square feet.
Sovereign Land Co. wanted to build a community called Hungerford Park. The team’s proposal states Hungerford Park would be a pedestrian-oriented mixed-use development with up to 105,120 square feet of office space along Wymore Road and 36,000 square feet of retail and restaurant space along Kennedy Boulevard. The development program offers a wide range of housing choices, including 96 townhomes, 60 bungalow homes, 47 single-family homes, and between 250 to 300 multifamily units. Many of the residences, including the apartments, feature access to lakefront amenity space and lake views. Features include a possible food hall component, an arts district next to the Eatonville Branch Library, a lakefront public park, and open space designated for public markets, pop-up shops and art installations.
Finally, Falcone’s winning bid features a proposal with plans to develop a project dubbed the Hungerford District at Eatonville. Plans call for 135,000 square feet of office space fronting Wymore Road and 100,000 square feet of commercial retail along Kennedy Boulevard. The proposal suggests the commercial component can bring an estimated 500 jobs to the area.
The selected Hungerford District at Eatonville development program also features 342 rental units across multiple 3-story apartment buildings. All units will be deemed affordable under Orange County’s 10-Year Action plan standards, meaning households earning 80% to 100% of Orange County’s Area Median Income. There will also be a to-be-determined amount of units dedicated for households earning 60% to 80% AMI, according to the proposal.
In addition, Falcone’s proposal states the district will offer 34 fee-simple townhomes directly west of Lake Bell, in the project’s southern region. The developer promises prices would not exceed $275,000 for the largest-sized townhomes with four bedrooms.
Notable features in the proposal for the Hungerford District at Eatonville include a 25,000-square-foot civic building next to the branch library that can “foster artistic collaboration, health and wellness services and tech education,” as well as an adjacent public plaza/green space that can accommodate outdoor concerts and festivals.
Other features include a 6,600-square-foot education pavilion that will connect to a boardwalk onto Lake Bell and a 31,000-square-foot linear park that runs north and south of the proposed mixed-use community.
At the meeting last week, members focused on the feasibility of the project, affordability of homes and whether or not plans were compatible and enriching to the town, which borders Winter Park and Maitland. The parcel sits at the corner of Kennedy Boulevard and Wymore Road near the downtown entrance. The Town of Eatonville is the oldest incorporated Black municipality in the U.S.
At the committee meeting, Laura Kelly, associate general counsel for the Central Florida Expressway Authority, said “I don’t know if what I was looking for was to take [something like] Lake Nona and put it right in the middle of this property...I love Lake Nona, but I don’t know if that was the fit I was looking for.”
Falcone Group’s proposal won points for its integration of affordable housing and its experience in public-private partnerships and large mixed-use development. The developer is behind Margaritaville and Reunion in Kissimmee and is involved in the Miami World Center mixed-use development underway north of downtown Miami.
In a statement to GrowthSpotter Alfonso Costa Jr., an executive vice president at Falcone Group, said the company “is truly honored that the School Board of Orange County intends to approve the selection of our team for the purchase and development of the Wymore Road/Hungerford Property.
“We greatly appreciate the thoughtfulness and care demonstrated by the parties involved throughout the process thus far, and we look forward to the next steps toward implementing the vision outlined over the years by the Town of Eatonville and its residents.”
Discussing the proposal at the meeting, Kelly, said the Falcone Group team was “well versed in affordable housing...That’s something the area may benefit from,” she said.
“They’re trying to make sure that the people who live there now aren’t being priced out of this area. They’re talking about catering to people who are in this community now and who want to stay in the community and whose kids want to grow up in the community.”
Of the four proposals, Falcone Group did not offer the highest bid for the property.
The highest bid came from Sovereign Land Co. which offered to purchase the land for $15.2 million. Next up was Chesterfield, which offered $15 million. Falcone Group offered $14.6 million and Debartalo offered $14 million.
Kyle Sanders, president of Sovereign Land Co., told GrowthSpotter he believes his proposal was more favorable for the Town of Eatonville because it offered more single-family detached homes and fewer multifamily units.
“It focuses on for-sale single-family product, which the town prefers based on meetings our team has already had with key representatives, as opposed to multifamily rental product, which the town does not want,’ he said an email to GrowthSpotter.
Earlier this week, Sanders submitted a Notice of Intent to Protest the evaluation committee’s recommendation based on what he believes to be an unjust assessment and ranking.
Sovereign’s proposal scored about 10 points less than Falcone’s in the mixed-use experience category, but only one point less for its monetary offer to purchase the property.
“The way the committee decided to score the proposals was completely arbitrary and unfair,” Sanders said. “We were the highest bidder at $15.2 million and the way the scoring was done, Falcone would have won even if they would have offered half of the price we offered... It was unfair to us and the Town of Eatonville.”
As defined in the purchase and sale agreement between OCPS and Eatonville, OCPS would sell the property to the town for $10 million, then the contract purchaser will buy the property from the town simultaneously.
Before that, the committee will make formal recommendations to the school board regarding the selected proposal. Following school board approval, the school board will enter into negotiations with the selected bidder to execute a formal real estate contract.
In the proposals, developers needed to show their capability in delivering an urban, pedestrian-friendly, infill community that mixes different housing products (rental or owner options) with uses that include retail, restaurant, office and civic. 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.
The 94-acre site on the east side of I-4 is where the former Robert Hungerford Preparatory School once operated before closing in 2009.
The RFP was issued by Orange County Public Schools earlier this summer, shortly following several failed attempts to lure in a developer and satisfactory proposals.
EDITOR’S NOTE: A former version of this article misstated the title of selection committee member Laura Kelly. She is no longer a staff attorney for OCPS.