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Photo by: Tim Freed - Eatonville resident Abraham Gordon fears the town will develop condos on its most important piece of property, pushing out current residents with high pricing.
Winter Park / Maitland Observer Thursday, Nov. 3, 2016 3 years ago

Eatonville seeks to sell Hungerford School property

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Critical Eatonville land for sale
by: Tim Freed Managing Editor

Abraham Gordon has seen plenty of change in the town of Eatonville – the place he’s called home for the past 54 years.

He can see it from the window of his restaurant, Gordon’s Be Back Fish House: roads repaved. Homes built. A yellow fire hydrant – part of a water system he had installed during his tenure as mayor in the ’80s.

He remembers when the police station was a volunteer fire station.

But Eatonville may be on the verge of a true transformation as a critical piece of land is up for grabs in the town: the roughly 94 acres of empty property surrounding the old Hungerford High School off of Kennedy Boulevard.

It’s a chunk of land that's been the focal point of the town for almost its entire history, and one of the biggest vacant pieces of land available for development in all of Central Florida. The Hungerford School that anchors the property was founded back in 1889, named after Dr. Robert Hungerford, a white physician from Maitland who taught African Americans how to read and write. It was a private vocational school until 1950 when it was obtained by Orange County, but was eventually closed down in 2009. The building has since served as a community meeting place for residents.

The fate of the land has long been a topic of discussion in the town, but the coming weeks could very well decide the destiny of the property and shape the future of Eatonville for generations.

Eatonville Chief Administrative Officer Roger Dixon said the town hopes to see it become a mixed-use project composed of residential, retail and office development, along with a new state-of the art elementary school promised by Orange County Public Schools. Though the property still belongs to the school system, it’s been placed in Eatonville’s hands to sell and develop the land.

“If this is done right, and it will be, it will create a tax base for us that we desperately need,” Dixon said. “It will take Eatonville to places where it’s never been.”

But Gordon fears that the land will be turned to nothing but condos, too expensive for most Eatonville residents, which will push out the existing community, he said.

The former mayor has his own vision of what the property should feature. Two easels in his restaurant display renderings of his dream: a vocational and technical school, a cultural center that immortalizes the history of the town, a football stadium, a hotel and several shops.

“We’re looking at something that will generate revenue for the town of Eatonville,” said Gordon, who formed the local nonprofit Eatonville Cultural and Growth Corporation to push his concept to outside developers and make his dream a reality.

“I don’t see where it would be an advantage to just sell off that school board property there and put condominiums in there. You’re not going to find people here that are going to afford it.”

Dixon said that Eatonville has received two bids for the land from UP Development and Essian Construction LLC, who both put forward a $100,000 deposit to have their proposals heard. Gordon’s proposal will not be heard due to him not paying the deposit, leaving his dream for the Hungerford School property in limbo.

An RFP (request for proposal) committee will hear the two proposals this Thursday, with a public meeting to take place the next day at 9 a.m. at Eatonville Town Hall where the committee will make a recommendation to the Town Council. The Mayor and the Town Council will make a decision at a later date, Dixon said.

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