When Valencia College opens its new Poinciana Campus next year, it will be surrounded by 400 acres of vacant land stretching all the way to the western shore of Lake Tohopekaliga.
When county leaders donated the 19-acre site to the college, they saw it as the anchor for a thriving, mixed-use district blending housing, retail, offices and public parks. But College Station was dealt a major blow when lead developer Mainstreet dropped out in April, less than three months after beginning negotiations with the county.
They won the enthusiastic endorsement of county staff and commissioners with their pitch to develop a wellness-themed, multi-generational community with a strong residential component.
Community Development Administrator Dave Tomek told GrowthSpotter the negotiations started off on a high note.
"We had a great kickoff meeting and discussed the information we would need to draft a contract," he wrote in a March email. "We will get together in a few weeks to go over the information and discuss the details. From the initial meeting, I am very positive about getting a contract to conclude the feasibility phase of the project."
A month later, Mainstreet was out. Senior VP Gary Smith wrote that "based on our preliminary market studies for regarding transitional healthcare and student housing potential for the proposed College Station Development in Osceola County, Mainstreet is withdrawing its participation as the developer on the project team."
Procurement Director Rebecca Jones told GrowthSpotter on Thursday that OLC and IBIS wanted to continue with the project, but Mainstreet was the prime contractor. And when they dropped out, the proposal ceased to exist.
"We were right there. It was so close," she said.
So what happened?
"From what I understand, Valencia College told them they don't see a need for student housing," Jones said. "They see themselves as a commuter college."
The $27 million college will serve 2,500 degree-seeking students, as well an additional 1,000 students seeking job training.
Mainstreet had proposed building 490 student/young adult housing units and 550 senior housing units. Mainstreet's student housing division, VITA, was to have developed a product that blended campus-style housing and apartment living. They were exploring ways to build a trail system connecting the housing to the Valencia campus.
"We didn't really see it as traditional student housing," Jones said. "We thought of it as housing for young families. For Mainstreet, that was the component they submitted for -- that's where they were going to make their money. The other members of the group still want to move forward and they're trying to cultivate relationships to bring on another builder."
Valencia's Osceola Campus President Kathleen Plinske said Thursday college officials weren't opposed to the project, they were simply trying to give Mainstreet a realistic assessment of the market demand.
"I think we had two conversations with them," she told GrowthSpotter. "I know they were working through the feasibility of their project. And I just wanted to be honest with them."
Plinske noted that none of Valencia's campuses have student housing components. She told the developer that the Poinciana campus site was chosen specifically to reduce commute times for Valencia students who already live in the community. "I just couldn't say with any certainty that there would be a need for student housing."
Jones said the county will have to seek letters of interest, but she hasn't been directed to repost the bid. Based on the Mainstreet experience, the RFLOI will likely be rewritten to replace "student housing" with multifamily housing.
County Manager Don Fisher said there is no immediate date for reposting the RFLOI. After two unsuccessful attempts to lure a developer, the county may need an updated master plan before going out to bid for a third time.