Tampa-based real estate investor Ben Mallah has acquired the retail component of Griffin Farm at Midtown, a mixed-use development in Lake Mary spanning 33 acres that also includes 401 housing units not included in the transaction.
Mallah, through his company Equity Management Partners, purchased the 150,000 square feet of retail space from Unicorp National Developments in an off-the-market deal totaling $42 million, he told GrowthSpotter.
Legacy Realty Group Advisors, LLC brokered the deal, representing both the buyer and the seller.
“We liked the asset and made a deal,” Mallah said. “The place is practically brand new and there’s a strong anchor in Winn-Dixie. There’s a brand new apartment complex that was built right on the same premises, and while that wasn’t a part of the deal, it supports the retail.”
Chuck Whittall’s Unicorp began the $200 million development of the commercial and residential mixed-use project in 2016 after buying the land through an affiliated LLC for $12.48 million. The company built a 263-unit apartment community called Drake at Midtown on the site and tabbed David Weekley Homes to build 138 single-family units.
Unicorp sold off the apartment asset in 2019 to an entity titled Rar2-252 Wheelhouse LLC, run by a group of real estate investors in New York, California, and Chicago. Today, the asset is managed by Orlando-based ZRS Management.
Whittall said he considered selling the retail center around the time he sold the apartments, but decided to hang on to it.
“We really hadn’t planned to sell the retail,” he said. “but we got this (offer) and it made sense to do it. We have a lot of new projects that will be starting at the end of this year and strategically it made sense for us to sell it.”
In addition to a 29,000-square-foot Winn-Dixie store, the shopping center holds nearly three dozen tenants, including a 24-Hour Fitness, Mattress One, Coastal Gifts & Decor, Tipsy Salon and several restaurants such as: First Watch, Kona Poke, Zaza Cuban Cafe, PF Changs Express, Beth’s Burger Bar, Bubbakoo’s Burritos, and more.
Whittall said the retail center has three vacancies, but the company is in conversation with a pizza eatery, a juice bar, and a furniture store to fill out the space. Unicorp will continue those negotiations following the sale.
Mallah said the tenant mix and customer base enticed him to pursue the asset. According to a brochure about the property published on Unicorp’s website, there are 165,541 people living within five miles of Griffin Farm at Midtown with a median household income of $93,079.
“We felt really good about the tenants there and the shoppers there, and the whole area,” Mallah said. “It’s got strong everything.”
Equity Management Partners has been active across the Sunshine State.
The company recently parted with a batch of apartments in Orlando to Starwood Capital, the nation’s largest apartment owner, as part of a $90 million package. The package included the 150-unit age-restricted St. Luke’s Life Center Apartments in Lakeland, the 240-unit Sonrise Villas in Fellsmere, and the 94-unit Villas at Cove Crossing in Lantana.
Locally, EMP has control of vacant retail space on an outparcel along International Drive, in the former parking lot of the Marriott Sheraton Four Points hotel Mallah sold in 2015. The 4,800-square-foot building, built by EMP, can hold as many as four tenants.
Mallah said it’s under contract to be sold, but he isn’t ready to announce the prospective buyer.