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Sanford uses novel approach to pick developer for downtown revitalization

The conceptual master plan for Sanford's $50 million downtown waterfront project.
The conceptual master plan for Sanford's $50 million downtown waterfront project. (City of Sanford)

Sanford's selection of Torre Construction and Development for a $50 million waterfront revitalization project comes with no guarantees for the Coral Gables developer.

The city opted to do things a little differently, naming three finalists and then choosing its favorite in mid-December. Right now Torre holds that position, in part because of CEO Venny Torre's biking around downtown Sanford to get a feel for its architecture and people. Some of Torre's staff checked out the area on foot.

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But that doesn't mean Torre Construction is locked in to the job. Second-place finisher Reader and Partners of Orlando is waiting in the wings, as is Mosaic Development of St. Petersburg, which came in third.

"We want who will most exemplify what we and the community see for downtown," Bob Turk, Sanford's economic development director, told GrowthSpotter on Tuesday. "We want the historic feel that is Sanford."

Slated to be transformed are roughly five semi-contiguous acres owned by the city in a three-block area downtown, which lies across from Lake Monroe.

On the drawing board is a residential mix of single family homes, upper-end residences and two- and three-bedroom detached housing on a three-acre parcel that has been serving as a parking lot for city employees and those using the courthouse.

Town homes on a second floor will accompany a restaurant/retail mix on 1.5 acres that had been a strip center the city bought and tore it down.

Also being considered is a boutique hotel that would be located on a former 1.2-acre city parking lot, on the corner of Sanford Avenue and First Street.

Turk said whoever the developer is, they are looking at a six- to eight-year project. And unlike most public land revitalization projects where the developer buys the property, the City of Sanford still has not decided if it will hold the property for at least a few years to make sure the effort stays on course.

The three finalists were chosen by a selection committee made up of Turk, the city's manager, its deputy city manager, the chairman of the Economic Development Commission and a representative of Littlejohn Engineering Associates, an adviser to the city.

"This will stimulate jobs in the form of near-term construction, and over the long term there will be private sector jobs," said John Jones, project manager for Littlejohn. "It's going to be a transforming project by adding residents and activity downtown."

Torre must now put together a request for proposals that captures and furthers the historic feel of downtown Sanford.

"We're going to try to make the project be an igniter for a really exciting place that right now is not there, but has the chance to be so," Torre said. "It's affordable and it has a young vibrant group of people starting to move in."

But, "We are not going to change the quaintness of the town," he added.

The challenge of the waterfront revitalization project will be to break through the perceptions of Sanford being a sleepy community, Torre said.

The city is currently developing a memorandum of understanding with Torre to establish a formal partnership, address what will be built, when and who is responsible.

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Torre is planning a real estate market analysis and a community planning and design workshop where the developer will hear from city officials, business owners and residents.

The process will take place in about eight months, and cost Torre Construction $300,000.

If discussions break down with Torre, the city would begin negotiations with Reader and Partners, followed by Mosaic Development if Reader did not work out.

The new revitalization project is the latest and one of the biggest steps for Sanford as it seeks to continue the redevelopment of its downtown. The city has joined with Seminole County to create RiverWalk, a walkway along Lake Monroe; put in brick roadways and refurbished its parks and squares.

"This is huge for us," said Sanford Mayor Jeff Triplett. "This will add rooftops and a real urban style, creating a vibrant work, play, live lifestyle."

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at ktalley@growthspotter.com or (407) 420-5176. Follow GrowthSpotter on FacebookTwitter and LinkedIn.

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