Work could start as soon as January on a long-promised gun superstore on the site of a former LA Fitness in southwest Orlando.
Located at 4850 Lawing Lane, southeast of the intersection of Conroy and S. Kirkman roads, the 3-acre property has been pegged since 2014 for the first Orlando location of Tampa-based Shooters World.
Plans for the store have been revised in the past two years to 79,800 square feet, with an expected inventory of more than 3,000 firearms. Customers will be able to test-shoot weapons or learn the proper handling of firearms on a handgun range and a 300-foot rifle range, both of which would be enclosed.
But first the company, which paid $2.65 million for the site in late 2014, must get several variances approved at Tuesday's meeting of the Orlando Board of Zoning Adjustment. It is seeking reduced setbacks at the front and back of the proposed new building that would face Kirkman Road, as well as reduced landscape buffers around the 150-space parking lot.
Shooters World first earned city approval in July 2014 to change the site's future land use from Industrial to Planned Development. Five months later, the city approved the aforementioned variances. Building permit requests were submitted in March 2015, but never issued.
In May 2015, general manager Bruce Kitzis told GrowthSpotter the store would open by Christmas of that year. Company officials did not respond to requests for comment over the past week.
Now, nearly two years later, the project is finally getting off the ground. Frank Valente, who represents business owner Bing Kearney, said work should start on the site by the first of the year with a grand opening toward the end of 2018.
Valente said "there were a number of reasons" for why the project has stalled since 2015, without offering further explanation.
One reason could be that the owners originally wanted to renovate the former LA Fitness building that's still on the site. They later decided that the building, which opened in 1988 under a different fitness brand, had deteriorated to the point that renovation couldn't support Shooters World's needs.
They're opting now for full demolition and new construction of a two-story building that will house retail gun sales, an indoor gun range, classrooms, a snack bar/lounge and a museum of classic firearms. In June, the property was replatted as Shooters World.
Shooters World executives intend to retain the existing parking lot and a retention pond south and east of the building site, according to city documents. Variances are needed because of the irregular shape of the property, the applicant wrote.
The city planning staff is recommending approval of the setback variances, because to adhere to the requirements would entail costly redesign of the building, they wrote in a summary report. As for the landscape buffers, the staff has recommended conditions that incorporate additional islands and plantings to "spruce up" the appearance of the parking lot.
The original owners and founders of Shooters World were Kearney, a wealthy developer in Hillsborough County, and Dr. Greg L. Henderson, an ophthalmologist and founder of Brandon Cataract Center east of Tampa.
Henderson was once mentioned in news articles as the fiancé of state Attorney General Pam Bondi. The couple have since split up. Valente said Henderson is no longer part of the ownership team. The original Tampa Shooters World opened in early 2013.