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Photo by: Isaac Babcock - The Dan T. McCarty building could soon be sold or leased to one of five prospective developers.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Wednesday, Sep. 28, 2011 8 years ago

City picks land swap deal for Office Building site

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Deal is most controversial
by: Isaac Babcock Managing Editor

Of five potential futures for Winter Park’s State Office Building, the most controversial is on its way to becoming a reality.

At Monday’s City Commission meeting, a proposal that commissioners had previously questioned was unanimously approved to move forward in the negotiation process.

The outcome of that process would involve a direct swap of properties between the city and CNL Commercial Real Estate along with Progress Point LLC, which owns a property at 1150 N. Orange Ave. That property lies at the south-southwest corner of the triple intersection of Denning Drive and North Orange and Minnesota avenues.

“I personally think the corner of Orange and Denning and Minnesota could become a very valuable piece of property,” Mayor Ken Bradley said. “I’m very concerned about the value as the maker of the motion.”

During Monday’s meeting, commissioners, developers and a former mayor all decried the deal as uneven, saying the city would be losing out.

Broker David Winters from competing developer Pollack Partners objected to what he said was a quick decision from the Commission, pointing out a disparity in appraisal value that may be as broad as $1 million.

“I’m absolutely amazed and somewhat concerned by the actions of this Commission, how easily you’re ready to accept a poor piece of property in exchange for a much nicer piece of property,” Winters said. “I can’t understand that this Commission is moving so quickly. It doesn’t make economic sense.”

Paul Rutledge, who represented competing developer Casto, said the city could afford to wait rather than rushing into a deal with CNL.

“I think you can argue that there’s no real rush for this,” Rutledge said. “If it turns out our plan is not very viable and not very interesting, then you can move on with CNL. I’m not sure you got the best price.”

But CNL’s Paul Ellis said that the time is now to close a deal, or the city could risk waiting even longer.

“When you think about it, you have to realize the economic realities of our time,” Ellis said. “If you don’t do this, there’s a good chance you’re going to be hanging onto this property for some time.”

Rutledge said CNL, Casto and Pollack had been in discussions to possibly work on a joint deal between the city and the three firms. Though no plan was announced at the meeting, Rutledge expressed confidence that it could be done.

“There’s an opportunity to do a threesome,” Rutledge said.

The proposed new use for the Dan T. McCarty State Office Building site would be to demolish the unusual X-shaped building and build an 80,000-square-foot office building in its place.

But details remain to be worked out between the city and CNL.

Winter Park Chamber of Commerce President Patrick Chapin said he applauded the city for moving forward, and warned the Commission to avoid being too critical of whatever deal emerges.

“No deal is perfect,” Chapin said. “Don’t love this opportunity to death. You’re not going to love every single part of this project.”

Bradley said that the deal isn’t done yet, and the negotiation process is still wide open.

“We’re opening negotiations,” he said. “We’re not closing negotiations.”

Budget passes

Just days before a cut-off that would have seen the governor reigning in budget control over the city, the Commission passed a budget for the 2012 fiscal year.

That includes a 2.5 percent pay raise for more than 500 city employees, plus an effective millage rate of 4.4166, a drop compared with the 4.4336 from last year.

“Frankly the 2.5 percent increase is well-deserved and long overdue,” Bradley said.

He also applauded the city government for maintaining a balanced budget during difficult economic times.

“I think the city has shown some incredible leadership over the last three years,” he said. “We’ve been through an incredibly tough time.”

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