Longwood seeks real estate expert to guide downtown redevelopments
By A.D. Thompson
Aug 24, 2016 at 6:34 PM
The City Hall complex in Longwood – three buildings on about an acre of land – sits amid quaint architecture, much of it of the late 1800s, in a district that became part of the National Register of Historic Places back in 1990.
But it's not long for this world.
City officials are in the early stages of planning a new City Hall on the four-acre W. Church Avenue location where its police department currently stands. And they're looking for the right real estate consultant to guide them in their decisions.
"We don't have a clear vision quite yet," Thomas Krueger, the city's economic development manager, told Growthspotter on Wednesday. "We're looking at something that could either be a single building or a campus-like setting with multiple buildings, at what means are the best for supporting our offices, getting the required square footage, but also assists us in other ways."
One of them, Krueger suggests, could be weekend overflow parking for Reiter Park events. Plans for the park's new amphitheater are in the design phase already.
The right consultant, says City Manager John Williams, will be creative, "certainly someone who has the ability to maintain the historic district's character."
Krueger concurs. Experience in similar projects is a must, as well.
"Not only are we looking at combining municipal buildings, we are looking at properties that are now going to be vacated and what those can be to be effective in drawing people into the historic district, not only in their use, but in their architectural appearance," he said. "We'd like them to blend well with the community."
Krueger said the right candidate will have a knack for helping to engender an urban-historic vibe.
Longwood was one of seven American communities to receive a no-cost Smart Growth America technical assistance workshop in 2016.
"The workshop served to identify our historic district as an asset," said Williams, "and we want to look at leveraging such assets to the fullest extent."
It's also an asset Krueger and cohorts would like to publicize, a downtown that could one day be mentioned alongside places like Sanford and Winter Garden when Central Floridians boast about their walkable districts.
"We've continually heard from people that (the downtown area) is a jewel they never realized was here…," Krueger said. "Most people drive on 434 and Ronald Reagan Boulevard but they never make the turn into town. We want to put things here that give it a sense of place. We want people to come here because maybe there's a restaurant, a tour of a historical nature, a concert at Reiter Park."
"We want to bring people off the train to this neighborhood," Krueger said.
They're making it easier, too. Longwood's SunRail stop is already just a five-minute walk to both the new Municipal Public Safety Complex and the historic district's core. Soon to be less, in fact.
"The lanes on Ronald Reagan are pretty wide now," said Chris Kintner, interim director, community development services. "We're going to reduce the lane width and put in on-street parking, which will making the crossing distance shorter, safer, faster."
Independent business, Krueger said, are attractive, and the city has the residential density to support them.
"We did a study last year with Gibbs Planning Group that showed we have a significant gap…." He added that they've seen evidence of such, "little shops that have popped up" alongside new apartments on Ronald Reagan Boulevard. He cites Zanzibar Coffee House as an example. The arty, indie business will celebrate its first-year anniversary in late October.
"It's often the independent businesses, like the good restaurant, that draws people. It can be a destination in itself," he said. "That would be a real homerun for us."
Indeed, interest from one of Metro Orlando's many fine restaurateurs would be welcome. Other ideas bandied about at Monday's City Council meeting included a biergarten.
Local businesswoman Judy Putz is chairman of the City Hall Relocation Ad Hoc Committee and a board member for the Land Planning Advisory Committee. Her shop, Judy's Dolls, is one of a handful of businesses that calls the historic district home. It's been there for 18 years.
"When we built our combination home/store, it was definitely with an eye to the future," she said. "I've (since) watched this area blossom into a quaint but flourishing district.
"Our hope is that by moving the public buildings over to the public safety property, and encouraging commercial redevelopment in a very high profile section of our district, the result will be more customers and more businesses attracted to this area."
Williams wouldn't take a stab at the price tag, but says the projects will likely be put to city residents.
"We would certainly have to look at a referendum perhaps, or a bond issue presented to the citizens," she continued. "It really depends on the proposal and its details."
Kintner and his colleagues are excited by all the possibilities and believe a real estate consultant can help them fine-tune their vision.
"We've got a lot going on here already in this area," he said. "As a city, we're really investing and looking to invest further – and what we're looking for is that guidance from the real estate community to see what opportunities there are here. That's the next step we're looking to take."
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