The Delaware bank that owns Orlando Fashion Square on Colonial Drive has submitted a new framework master plan to the city “designed specifically to bring new life to the development” with another 177,000 square feet of new retail uses, plus a mix of housing types and hotel.
New Jersey-based M & M Realty would lead the mall redevelopment into a mixed-use community, according to Hal Kantor, shareholder for Lowndes and attorney for Bancorp.
“This developer has been involved with this bank for over 20 years,” Kantor said. “There’s a strong relationship. They have been the borrowers, they’ve been advisors and consultants. In this case, they are part of the business deal for redeveloping the site because they have the experience to do it — with $6 billion in their portfolio.”
“The design team has reimagined the space with the emphasis on bringing residents into the site to live work and play,” the firm wrote in its project description. “This is accomplished not only by a diverse mix of programming including retail, food and beverage, office, hotel, and residential uses, but also by physically driving complete streets into the heart of the site.”
The move comes more than two years after a development team led by Unicorp National Development President Chuck Whittall paid $23 million for the land underneath the mall. Whittall and investment partner, Daryl Carter, have tried unsuccessfully to purchase the mall building from Bancorp, but the two parties have never been able to reach a sale agreement. Bancorp acquired the mall through a foreclosure in 2016 and has seen its occupancy drop over the last five years.
The framework plan calls for a four-phase redevelopment of the property, keeping the existing Macy’s and parking garage. Neither Bancorp nor Unicorp has ownership interest in the sections anchored by Floor & Dècor or Dick’s Sporting Goods, so those buildings would not be affected. Stand-alone restaurants Olive Garden and Longhorn Steaks and the Bank of America building also would remain. Everything else would be demolished and replaced.
The total plan calls for 177,000 square feet of new retail and dining uses, including two restaurant pads fronting on Colonial, a 120-room hotel, 1,400 residential units, two new parking garages and a central event lawn with a pavilion. Kantor said the plan eliminates the movie theater.
“The center of the development features a flexible lawn envisioned to hold a robust program of activities further promoting the development as a hub of neighborhood activity,” according to the project description.
The event lawn would include a pavilion with concierge service, a stage for live music and entertainment. Activities could include fashion shows, movie nights, yoga events and sports viewing, according to the inspiration board.
Phase 1 of the plan would introduce new 400-unit apartment building and the event lawn. The hotel also would be built, with 20,000 square feet of attached retail, adjacent to the park. Macy’s and Dillards would remain, and several new retail buildings would be added, including a two-story building with 50,000 square feet across from Macy’s.
The apartment buildings are not designed with ground-floor retail space, so city planners asked the design team to add the live-work units along the new interior road, Kantor said. The first 32 units are in Phase 1.
“It is not the easiest thing in the world to have successful retail at the base of apartment buildings or parking garages,” Kantor said. “Sometimes they work, sometimes they don’t. So the city brought it up is something they’d like to see.”
Phase 2 would add slightly more residential units — 450 apartments plus another 40 live-work units — and an attached parking garage that could accommodate 805 vehicles. In Phase 3, the Dillards store would be razed and replaced with 450 apartments with structured parking, 25 live-work units and 32 townhomes along Maguire Boulevard on the northern tip of the property.
The final phase adds 24,000 square feet of retail use, including the restaurant pads fronting on Colonial.
Kantor said the plan is conceptual and will be subject to lease negotiations with the tenants. For example, the owners are “in discussions” with Dillards, but don’t have an agreement for the department store to vacate its building.
“It’s subject to negotiations with Dillards,” he said. “I mean, Dillards could say no, or Dillards could say yes, or Dillards could say I want to do something different. Those are the kind of things that go on.”
In many ways, the plan mirrors a concept Whittall had put together in 2019 for the site. He told GrowthSpotter he had reviewed the plan, which could head to Orlando’s Municipal Planning Board as early as November.
“I don’t think the plan was necessarily a bad plan,” Whittall said. “I haven’t studied it really in detail, but I don’t think they can execute on it because we own the land, and it’s very hard to be able to finance apartments overtop of the ground lease. But I mean, heck if they want to put a half a billion dollars of improvements on top of our property, that we’ll own 48 years from now, we’ll be happy to have them do that. I mean, it would be a great win for us, for someone to essentially give us half a billion-dollar gift.”
Kantor said the 120-year ground lease gives the mall owner/operator extraordinary powers. “For example, we can knock down buildings, without approval so long as what we put back in place has a value that’s equal or higher than what we knocked down because that results in more revenue to the underlying landowner,” he said.