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Orlando-based Unicorp National Developments sold a portfolio of eight retail strip center assets on Thursday totaling $33.15 million to a Dallas-based private equity investor, and immediately reinvested much of the proceeds on 18 acres in Longboat Key where the group is planning a resort, the company's CEO told GrowthSpotter.

Chuck Whittall said his company wasn't actively marketing the eight properties for sale earlier this year, which total more than 100,000 square feet.

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But with a growing need for capital to inject into a Gulf Coast land purchase, Whittall approached longtime collaborative broker Kyle Stonis of SRS Real Estate Partners about testing market interest in a strip center package.

"We have a close relationship with Unicorp, it was probably March when we engaged to help him find groups interested in a portfolio," Stonis said.

The buyer, Crow Holdings Capital Real Estate, is a manager of eight private equity real estate funds, with at least one retail center asset in Greater Orlando (Lake Mary). Stonis' firm has a long-standing relationship with Crow, dating back to SRS' founding in Dallas as Staubach Retail Services.

"The nice part about Crow is they're able to scale, and in this part of their fund when they're buying these strip centers intead of large anchor centers, being able to come into this market and scale was key," Stonis said.

Whittall had plans in development to acquire an 18-acre oceanfront property in Longboat Key, a property acquisition he would coordinate with this sale to reinvest the proceeds through a 1031 tax-free exchange.

Near Sarasota, Unicorp will redevelop the former Colony Beach & Tennis Resort into a 180-key, five-star resort hotel, with 180 condos and timeshare units, Whittall said.

Chuck Whittall, CEO of Unicorp
Chuck Whittall, CEO of Unicorp

Unicorp bought the Longboat Key property on Thursday for $22 million, reported area news outlet YourObserver.com. The property has been shuttered for six years and requires $60,000 in initial demolition work by the developer.

Whittall told the news site the resort would be a $1 billion development, with saltwater swimming pools where guests could swim with tropical fish.

First American Title was the 1031 intermediary for Unicorp, and attorney Russell Hintze of Greenberg Traurig coordinated the exchange.

Crow Holdings bought the following properties from Unicorp:

-- Orlando: Metro Plaza (2422 S. Kirkman Road), Metro Pointe (2216 S. Kirkman Road), and Metro Crossings (2555 S. Kirkman Road);

-- Winter Park: Winter Park Terrace (415 N. Orlando Ave.), Village Shoppes of Winter Park (933 N. Orlando Ave.), and the related WPT Outparcel (1408 Gay Road);

-- Brandon: Brandon Commons (11007 Causeway Blvd.) and Lake Brandon Shoppes (11019 Causeway Blvd.).

Among those properties, Whittall said that the 26,222-square-foot Winter Park Terrace was the first commercial development he built, in 1998.

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"I tried to build a nice, high-end property for that time, which was 20 years ago," Whittall said. "It's still nice today, but I've just learned to raise the bar with each property that we do."

SRS is now taking three more of Unicorp's retail strip centers to market: the Speedway Shoppes in Daytona, Shoppes of Belleview in Belleview, Fla., and Baldwin Legacy on New Broad Street in Orlando's Baldwin Park.

Capital from those sales may help Unicorp in its desire to buy land in Downtown Orlando's Creative Village project, to develop up to 300 apartments and retail space.

An official with Crow Holdings declined to comment on the deal Thursday, citing a confidentiality agreement.

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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