WINTER GARDEN — Mike Pirozzolo successfully built his home décor business in Windermere before moving it to downtown Winter Garden in 2011. But after four years, he is closing W.G. Home, not because business is down, but because the rent has become too high, he said.
Although he wouldn’t disclose his monthly rent, he said it has increased 50% since he first opened at 137 W. Plant St. He expects to close his doors this weekend.
Pirozzolo hopes to reopen in another location, preferably in Winter Garden, but more-affordable rent is important, he said. Ideally, he wants 1,500 to 2,000 square feet to sell his gifts and home furnishings and offer kitchen and bath design services.
He moved his business to Winter Garden because of the new dynamic downtown.
“The city of Winter Garden has done a good job,” Pirozzolo said of the Plant Street resurgence in recent years.
But this much of a rent increase isn’t acceptable, he said.
“The laws of supply and demand are at play,” said Peter Fleck, who heads the commercial division of The Real Estate Collection, 100 W. Plant St., and owns three downtown Winter Garden sites with his partners.
Downtown is at 99% occupancy, he said.
Rental figures vary depending on the building’s location and size and when it was constructed, he said, but the average is $16 per square foot for office space up to $24 per square foot for some retail space.
“I think that’s a very reasonable price,” he said. “If you compare that to … Fowler Groves or downtown Winter Park, I’ve heard it’s in the $30s.”
Among the people or entities that own the downtown buildings: The Bond Foundation, Marc Grimes, Larry Cappleman, the Roper family, Bert Valdes, Bob and Ann Ellis, the Edgewater Hotel investors, Betty Bryan, Randy June and a partnership that includes Fleck. The city owns the old Florida Power building, the Garden Theatre and the building that houses Florida Film Academy.
“It’s a competitive market, but it’s all positive,” Kari Fleck, owner of The Real Estate Collection, said.
“We all want to keep space leased, because that’s how you can keep rents down,” said Charlie Roper, who with his family owns the Garden Building, 146 W. Plant St. “If you’ve got space opened for an extended length of time, you’re costs are going to go up.”
Fortunately, he hasn’t had an open space in nearly three years, although he gets calls on a regular basis from people looking to lease space downtown. When he gets such an inquiry, he passes it along to another property owner who might have space.
“We set our own rates based on what our demand is and what we have and what we feel is fair and compared to what the market is doing,” Peter Fleck said. “I will do an appraisal and see what is being offered that is competition to us and try to make adjustments to our spaces.”
Fleck and Roper praised the city for its part in revitalizing downtown Winter Garden, which began in the 1990s when Main Street Winter Garden was formed and continued with the addition of the West Orange Trail.
“One of the reasons that it’s so desirable is (because) the city leadership has done an excellent job of navigating what’s good for the city and managing the growth,” Fleck said.
City leaders embarked on a $4.5 million streetscape project in 2001, when bricks were installed along the downtown corridor and aesthetic enhancements such as trees were added. The city spent $1.2 million on sewer improvements, and it has added parking areas, a gazebo and splash park. The city is about to spend $8 million to build a parking garage to handle the influx of visitors and shoppers.
“You look at the property values 11 or 12 years ago, before the streetscape was done, as opposed to now,” Roper said. “Part of it is finding the businesses that can survive in the environment that’s been created downtown.”
TIMELINE OF DOWNTOWN RESURGENCE
1991: Winter Garden was selected for the Florida Main Street USA program, and Main Street Winter Garden was established. This program was administered by the Florida Bureau of Historic Preservation to help small and medium-sized cities reverse downtown blight.
1992: The Community Redevelopment Agency was created.
1994: MSWG morphed into the Winter Garden Heritage Foundation, and a historic property survey was conducted. The first phase of the West Orange Trail was created.
1995: An architectural, structural and marketing analysis of the vacant Edgewater Hotel for potential future use.
1997: Downtown Winter Garden received designation as a historic district.
2001-03: The $4.5 million streetscape enhancement project changed the face of Plant Street.
2008: The Garden Theatre was refurbished and opened. A new, modern City Hall was constructed. The Winter Garden Farmers Market started.
2011: The open-air pavilion was built, and the splash park was created.