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New owner of blighted strip mall in Longwood aims to create vibrant community town center

Plans for Longwood City Center call for developing a three-story commercial building with outdoor patio space and a public boardwalk with lakeside activities.
Plans for Longwood City Center call for developing a three-story commercial building with outdoor patio space and a public boardwalk with lakeside activities.

After years of no luck reeling in the right property investor, a blighted strip mall along State Road 434 in Longwood has a new chance to be redeveloped.

Longwood-based Dounia Development Inc. just paid $4.75 million to acquire the old Township Plaza commercial center at 950 and 1018 W. S.R. 434 with long-term plans to transform the plaza into a vibrant lakefront city center.

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The company is linked to a family-run commercial real estate business managed by Bassam, Maha and Chantelle Mnayarji. Records show Dounia Development Inc. secured $2.8 million from Windermere-based Legacy 52 Holdings LLC to finance the acquisition.

As part of the deal, a portion of the strip mall that had perished in fires, not once but twice in its long history, was torn down before the sale. The roughly two-story building was built in the 1980s, around the same time the rest of the shopping plaza was built.

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The proposal was submitted in response to an RFP issued last year to help establish Longwood's Heritage Village area, which includes the historic downtown district, Reiter Park and the SunRail station.

Currently, Township Plaza contains a 23,800-square-foot, single-story retail strip mall along the lake and an adjacent 5,500-square-foot retail building that houses Luna’s Pizza.

The seller, Township Plaza Associates LLLP, is led by Brenda Leitman and Jennifer Crane. Records show the company has owned most of the land since before the retail buildings were constructed.

Chantelle Mnayarji told GrowthSpotter the family-owned real estate business is currently focused on leasing up vacancies at the plaza and securing a strong cash flow from current and new tenants while upgrades take place.

She said the company is in the midst of repairing the roof and plans to repave the parking lot, add new landscaping and improve the façade. They’re also rebranding the strip mall to Longwood City Center.

Current tenants consist of Luna’s Pizza, Kerryman Pub, Cafe Perks, Vietnamese restaurant Pho Ben Thanh and others including a karate studio and a hair and nail salon. The plaza sold about 50% occupied.

Once Longwood City Center generates a steady cash flow, Chantelle Mnayarji said the family business can begin embarking on long terms plans discussed with city officials to build a three-story commercial building with outdoor patio space and public recreational space along the lake.

“We [the family business and the general Longwood population] love our lakes, springs and rivers, but there are no public boat ramps in Longwood for people to enjoy a day in the water,” she said.

Village on the Green is wrapping up an extensive $56 million expansion and redevelopment plan that will add a host of new amenities and living spaces for residents.

The Mnayarji family business is working with Longwood planners to create a site plan that encourages lakefront recreational activities like canoeing and kayaking. A public boardwalk and boat dock are also part of the conceptual plans.

Preliminary discussion about the development has taken place, but a formal site plan has not yet been submitted for review, Tom Krueger, the city of Longwood’s economic development director and special projects manager, said.

ELEVEN18 Architecture was tapped by the new owners to draw up a conceptual rendering of the proposed three-story Longwood City Center building.

Krueger said the roughly 7.5-acre property has been “crying for redevelopment.”

“In its 20-plus years not a penny has gone into the Township Plaza,” he said, adding the area serves as a gateway into Longwood and its current condition does not give the best representation. “The city desperately needs this.”

Last year, commercial real estate company TI Group attempted to introduce a new food hall as well as apartments and townhomes to Longwood’s Heritage Village area, which includes the historic downtown district, the recently revitalized Reiter Park and the SunRail station, but plans were voted down by commissioners.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at arabines@GrowthSpotter.com or (407) 420-5427, or tweet me at @amanda_rabines. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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