Seminole County leaders want to see a 92-year-old school site in a low-income, predominantly Black neighborhood redeveloped into a community center with affordable housing, a history museum, a sheriff’s office substation, a culinary school, recreational space, and more.
And after a month-long effort to find developers willing to take on the project for the long-empty historic Rosenwald School property, the county has received proposals from four Florida-based companies.
Proposals came in from Miami-based Archway Partners, Orlando-based Banyan Development Group, Delray Beach-based Smith & Henzy Advisory Group, and Altamonte Springs-based Wendover Housing Partners. The latter is partnering with Sanford-based construction company Wharton-Smith in the proposal.
“This process was purely to gauge the interest of qualified firms,” Robert Bradley, the county’s procurement administrator, said in an email. “The next step will be a full-scale RFP that will undergo a more heavily scrutinized evaluation process that will more than likely include a cost factor for the final direction of the County. At this point, we do not have a timeline as to when the next phase in this process will take place.”
The Rosenwald School off Merritt Street, just east of Ronald Reagan Boulevard, opened in 1931, in the Black community of East Altamonte, also known as Winwood. It was among thousands of Rosenwald schools built mostly in the South that served Black students during segregation with financial help from a foundation started by Julius Rosenwald, the Sears Co. tycoon, and Booker T. Washington, a Black educator.
[ Earlier coverage: East Altamonte residents long for redevelopment of old Rosenwald School site ]
In 1951, East Altamonte broke away from Altamonte Springs after scores of residents filed a lawsuit contending the city was collecting taxes from property owners but not providing any services to their community. The federal court ruled in favor of the residents.
Most of the buildings on the Rosenwald school property today were built in 1960 after a fire destroyed a large part of the campus.
As Seminole schools became fully integrated, the Rosenwald School closed in 1975 and converted from an elementary school into the Rosenwald Student Education Center, a learning facility for special needs children.
In June 2011, the school district closed the campus. Students were transferred to Endeavor School and the Hopper Center in Lake Mary.
Seminole County bought the Rosenwald school site in 2019 for $1.75 million with redevelopment plans in mind.
“We have the opportunity to team with a developer to do what’s right for the community,” County Commissioner Lee Constantine said at the time.
The proposals from each developer can not yet be made public at this time. But the county has made it clear what they want to see the old school property become —a vision outlined in the RFQ advertised to the development community from Feb. 8 to March 8.
“We need this to be a community project with an affordable housing element, not an affordable housing project with a community element,” Seminole County Commissioner Amy Lockhart told GrowthSpotter. “It’s really critical that the intent of that property remains the same and that it stays for the needs of the community first and foremost, that’s who we are trying to serve and that’s the ultimate goal is that this property continues to be a hub for the community.”
The county commission, in August of last year, approved a plan that calls for the renovation of three of the existing buildings and the demolition of the rest of the property.
According to the RFP, new affordable housing would go on the western portion of the site and would take advantage of access through existing parking. Units would be arranged in two and three-story buildings that are compatible with the existing tree canopy and act as a transition in scale between the new community center space and nearby single-family residential homes.
The design should include outdoor space for recreation, gathering, and lake activities, including large lawn areas, shaded seating areas, picnic areas, and a community dock. These outdoor spaces would be shared by the housing complex and a newly built Rosenwald Community Center. The community center space should come with an architectural design that mirrors/compliments the historical Rosenwald Schools, the RFQ says.
According to the RFQ, building #1 on the site would be transformed into a culinary school with a teaching kitchen while building #2 would become a Sheriff’s Department substation. Building #3 would be redeveloped into a heritage center and history museum.
The county anticipates managing the operations of the three renovated buildings and the proposed community center, along with its associated amenities. However, the county will consider other proposals that benefit the community while minimizing long-term operational expense, the RFQ says.
While the county expects the developer awarded the project to fund its design and construction, the county will entertain various ownership and leasing proposals.
“Preference may be given to proposals that maximize the efficient use of taxpayer funds while creating the best long-term use of the property,” the RFQ states.
The county will be responsible for the full demolition of the existing buildings not being retained utilizing American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The county will also locate, drain, and crush in place on-site septic tank(s) and remove buried sewer lines. The county will issue work orders under existing Master Services Agreements to have this work performed.
According to the RFQ, the county will also research and apply for any available grant funding to use towards the redevelopment of the site. Any awarded grant funding will be applied to the project as determined by the county.
Lockhart said she wants whichever developer is chosen for the project to commit to working with residents of the surrounding community every step of the way.
“It is imperative that this community be respected and honored through this process,” she said. “It really truly is a wonderful project and I’m excited to see how it’s going to be completed. It’s a legacy project.”
Three of the developers that submitted proposals for this project have been active in the Greater Orlando area.
Wendover Housing Partners is developing Universal’s first affordable housing community, which will be called Catchlight Crossings. The 1,000-unit mixed-income development will include an on-site tuition-free preschool and medical care, 16,000 square feet of retail space, a fitness trail, and a transportation hub for buses, ridesharing, and employer shuttles.
In Seminole County, the developer is bringing affordable housing to Sanford’s historic Goldsboro neighborhood. After completing a 60-unit community here in early 2022, Wendover is now working on another community next door with 84 affordable units.
Banyan Development Group has a number of affordable housing projects either in the pipeline or completed in the Orlando market, including several in Seminole County.
The company is moving forward on plans to bring a transit-oriented multifamily community with up to 120 affordable/workforce housing units to land near the SunRail station in Altamonte Springs.
Banyan is also looking to add to the affordable housing stock in Kissimmee with plans to deliver 192 units to land along Yates Road, across from Shingle Creek Regional Park.
Archway Partners broke ground in September on an 80-unit age-restricted transit-oriented multifamily community at Sanford’s SunRail station. Here, rentals will be set aside for residents ages 55 and older who make less than 60% of the Area’s Median Income (AMI).
Smith & Henzy Advisory Group has more than 6,000 affordable housing units in its portfolio nationwide with another 2,000 in the pipeline, according to its website.
The company recently broke ground on a 60-unit affordable housing project in Delray Beach, according to media reports. Smith & Henzy is also working to rebuild and expand an aging housing community in West Palm Beach with a plan to bring a mix of affordable and market-rate units to the site.
Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at (407)-800-1161 or dwyatt@GrowthSpotter.com, or tweet me at @DustinWyattGS. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.