New downtown tower next to Orange County Courthouse would be city's tallest

A proposed 450-foot mixed-use tower next to downtown Orlando's Orange County Courthouse could be the city's tallest.

Miami-based MEC Development Associates filed a Master Plan (MP) with the city for its second "Zoi House" tower project at the southeast corner of N. Orange Avenue and E. Livingston Street -- directly across from the Bank of America Financial Center. The 41-story tower would combine Class A residential with ground-floor retail and boutique office-commercial space.

SunTrust Center is currently the city's tallest building, at 441 feet.

The 1-acre site is currently home to Fratelli's Restaurant/Parallel night club and the former Acquittal Cafe. Both are owned by affiliates of The Weintraub Companies, a real estate developer based in Aventura. 

Development Coordinator Tomas Possenti told GrowthSpotter the deal was brought to MEC by a mutual friend. MEC already has a presence in Central Florida through its strategic partnership with B Developments via a large industrial portfolio, and those firms are co-developers of the Zoi House Orlando and Zoi House Coconut Grove, a 130-unit transit-oriented condo tower now under construction next to a Metrorail station in Miami.

"We chose the name carefully," he said. "Zoi is the Greek word for life. The whole concept is our buildings are designed to give people a sense of community. We will have amenities that bring people together."

Zoi House Orlando would feature ground-floor retail on Orange and Livingston and up to 130,000 square feet, or six floors, of office/commercial uses and nearly 700 structured parking spaces. The developer is seeking a modification to the existing entitlements to increase the number of residential units from 200 to 300.

"We could have gone up to 400, but we felt that was too much," Possenti said.

The office/commercial allocation could potentially decrease as the project makes its way through the permitting process, he added. The initial application seeks the maximum amount allowed within the current entitlements.

"We're trying to be very unique, more boutique and more hands-on," Possenti said. "We want Zoi House to be a little more special. We're not out there for the mass market."

The office space feature state-of-the-art technology and would be highly amenitized. "It will work well with today's trend toward co-working environments," Possenti said. "We just finished an office condo in Miami that has its own gym, outdoor deck and electric vehicle charging station."

If the city requires a commercial entitlement trade-off for the residential density, it's likely the building height would be more in line with the surrounding properties. The BoA tower is 409 feet, and the courthouse is 416 feet. 

The proposed X Orlando tri-tower at the northwest corner of the intersection would be 25 stories at its tallest point, but the project's first phase is designed at 17 stories. 

MEC enlisted Baker Barrios to partner with the firm's in-house talent to design a streamlined, highly symmetrical tower with an emphasis on verticality and transparency. 

"A word to describe our style would be subtle elegance within a unique, modern environment," Possenti said.

Baker Barrios had taken a similar project through permitting in 2007 for Weintraub, the current property owner. It's because of that earlier approval that Creative Director Wayne Dunkelberger said he doesn't think the 450-foot height will be much of an issue. 

"This is a great chance and opportunity for us," Dunkelberger said. "Very rarely do you get a chance to design the tallest building in a downtown."

He said the developer would have to get approval from the Federal Aviation Administration for the building height. "It looks like we can go up to 500 feet in that area, so it's not a stretch to go 450," he said. 

The team is finalizing its submission for Appearance Review Board. Dunkelberger said the clients had a strong vision for what the building would look like. Their direction was to go with a minimalist design and focus on form.

"We want the building to look tall since it is tall, and the office portion has a bigger footplate, so it will get a more vertical looking design," Dunkelberger said. "I think it'll have the best view in all of Orlando."

Zoi House, combined with X Orlando and the proposed 325-unit apartment tower just south of Bank of America, could add more than 1,500 new residential units within a one-block walk of the Lynx-SunRail transit center. 

The initial MP calls for 25 floors of residential use with a rooftop amenity. All units would have balconies. The floorplans include a variety of sizes ranging from a 560-square-foot studio (10 units) to a three-bed, 3.5-bath with a den at over 1,400 square feet. The most common floorplan, the one-bed, one-bath, would comprise a third of the total unit count.

"We're working on several projects downtown, and each developer has their own unique formula," Dunkelberger said. "This particular client likes to have dens in some of their units."

The team positioned the largest units on the east and south facing sides of the building to take advantage of the views of Lake Eola.

Although there's nothing designated on the initial MP, Possenti said the community would be pet-friendly with a designated dog-walk area, probably on the roof of the office section. The residential lobby would open onto Livingston and would have dedicated elevators. The office lobby would open to Orange, also with express elevators.

Floors 2-9 would house the parking garage, with approximately 87 spaces per floor. Access would be from Livingston.

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