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Orlando firms back 4 developer bids for free office land in Osceola research park

Orlando firms back 4 developer bids for free office land in Osceola research park
This rendering of the future Florida Tech Farm research park projects a vibrant mixed-use district. Four firms are competing for the chance to build the first office building in the research park. (Perkins+Will)

The opportunity to build the first Class A/B office building in Osceola County's Florida Tech Farm research park drew bids from four real estate development firms, including two from Florida.

"I'm very happy," County Manager Don Fisher told GrowthSpotter on Tuesday afternoon, after sealed bids were opened. "I'm told they're four very solid, top notch proposals."

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Fisher said the county's selection committee will evaluate the proposals over the holiday weekend, and he expects to make a recommendation to the Board of County Commissioners on Dec. 12 to enter into negotiations with the top-ranked firm.

The 100,000-square-foot office building will serve as headquarters for the International Consortium for Advanced Manufacturing Research (ICAMR) and imec's North American headquarters and nanotechnology design center.

Osceola County is also building the $130 million Florida Advanced Manufactoring Research Center that will anchor the county's new 500-acre research park. It's scheduled to open next year, and Fisher said he wants to fast-track the office building.

The county will provide up to 2 acres of land next to the sensor center to the winning team.

Jacksonville-based Signet Development teamed up with Perkins+Will, which is developing the research park master plan, and construction firm Brasfield & Gorrie.

Stephen Coulston, P+W project manager, told GrowthSpotter the firm lept at the chance to design the park's first office building, which he feels will set the bar for how the high-tech zone of the park will develop.

He said it's not uncommon for P+W to design the first building on a campus after having completed the master plan. This case is unusual because the master planning is still underway.  If Signet wins the contract, the P+W Miami office would take the lead in the building design.

"We spend so much emphasis on developing a master plan that is implementable, so to be involved in the actual implementation is very rewarding," he said on Wednesday. "We understand the client and their issues, and we understand the vision and goals of what Osceola County and ICAMR are trying to achieve. The larger vision becomes crucial in this."

Signet, a full-service real estate development and construction management firm, specializes in public-private partnerships and lists public-private office development as an area of expertise.

Coulston said Signet's team has a successful track record. The three firms have collaborated on several projects, including P+W's Atlanta offices and Infinity Hall in the University of Florida's Innovation Square.

Signet's asset management division would own and manage the building. Signet often provides project financing through a long-standing affiliation with Signet Capital, a closely held investment bank.

Upshot Real Estate Fund I is the only proposal from an Orlando-based developer. The pooled investment fund is sponsored by Raul Socarras, who is also CEO of Orlando-based Upshot Capital Advisors. The fund is currently investing in office space in Downtown Orlando and has a contract to buy 28 acres in the E192 tech corridor targeted for a mixed-use development.

Socarras told GrowthSpotter it was the connection with that property that sparked his interest in the research park. He said he discussed the project with Fisher and with ICAMR CEO Chester Kennedy before the county issued the RFLOI.

"We came in with a deep understanding of the mission of the park and what Chester and Don are trying to accomplish there," he said Wednesday. "So we believe we could build a product that would serve their needs in a sense of partnership with Osecola County while still being able to satisfy our fund goals and fiduciary duties to our investors."

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The Upshot team has enlisted Baker Barrios as project architect and Balfour Beatty as general contractor. Millenia Partners would serve as broker representative.

"As a local group, it's definitely exciting to potentially partner with our hometown community, and to take part in something that could leave a real legacy for future generations," he said.

Socarras said he sought out Tim Baker and together they "pushed the boundary" of what a Class B office building could look like. The interior will have all Class A finishes, he said.

"I've met him before, and I just really connected with his architectural style and some of the work he's done in the past," he said. "This project seemed to be a really good fit for us to work together and put something special. Our team is pretty seasoned and strong. Our vision for the building is going to be exciting for them."

The third bid came from Franklin, Tennessee-based Century HealthRealty, a development partner of Skanska USA, the contractor now building the FAMRC. The firm provides a full range of development services from project feasibility, project finance, design development, and move-in coordination.

The bulk of its portfolio is in the medical office and healthcare arena. The team includes ShenkelShultz as architect and Cushman & Wakefield for property management.

The fourth bid was from Municipal Consolidation and Construction, (MCC), which specializes in building and leasing municipal office buildings and facilities. The firm is a subsidiary of Franklin L. Haney Company (FLH), a family-owned-and-managed business based out of Washington, DC. FLH has national investments in real estate and property development.

Osceola's Fisher said he felt a sense of relief at Tuesday's 2 p.m. bid opening.

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"You never know what you'll get," he said. "Sometimes, like when we do hotels, the bids just don't materialize. But this time it turned out better than we could have expected."

The Tech Farm could get another huge boost in January if the U.S. Commerce Department awards the county a five-year, $70 million manufacturing innovation grant.

The county and ICAMR are finalists for the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) grant, and Osceola County has offered 50 acres of land within the research park as a match for the grant.

Have a tip about Central Florida development? Contact me at lkinsler@GrowthSpotter.com or (407)420-6261, or tweet me at @LKinslerOGrowth. Follow GrowthSpotter on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn.

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