ORLANDO – It wasn’t all that long ago, Orlando City Commissioner Robert Stuart noted, that he and other local commissioners were eagerly watching the proposed growth occurring at the intersection of Mills Avenue and Virginia Drive.
But that was in the days before the housing market crashed, before lending by local banks became virtually non-existent, and before a recession swept the nation. Plans for an expansive mixed-use facility at Mills Park got put on hold and had to ride out the recession like everyone else.
So when Stuart joined Mayor Buddy Dyer and other city officials at Mills Park, the property at 1101 Virginia Drive, on Monday morning, it was not to mourn lost ambitions there, but for an actual groundbreaking ceremony – one that had been years in the making.
“This project started years back,” Stuart noted.
No matter how far back it started, or stalled, development at Mills Park was back on track Monday, as city leaders held the official groundbreaking ceremony for The Fresh Market store at Mills Park. Stuart, Dyer and other city leaders joined representatives of DeBartolo Development and Forge Capital Partners, the firms constructing the Fresh Market store at Mills Park, which is expected to eventually become an expansive mixed-use development with multifamily units, retail shops and office space.
“It’s been a long road, and we’re very anxious to get the project started,” said Jay Adams, the development officer for the construction firm DeBartolo Development.
Ken Towery, zone vice president of operations for Fresh Market, said in 2013 they would be opening a 24,000 square foot market that would include a meat counter, bakery, deli, flower section, and produce department, and one that would offer local and regionally-sourced products.
“There will be a European feel, almost, to the market,” he added, while stressing that the project would bring 90 new jobs to the neighborhood near the Orlando/Winter Park line.
“We’re delighted to be a part of Mills Park,” Towery said. “It’s going to be our third area store.”
It would also be the 31st store that Fresh Market has opened in Florida, he added.
“The economic impact that this center will have — this is going to have a really big effect on the city of Orlando,” added Peter Collins, a partner in Forge Capital Partners, the commercial real estate investment firm based in Tampa which is helping to finance this project.
“We focus on grocers bringing markets to places where there are not markets,” he said.
Business partner Robert Moreyra said Forge Capital, a private equity fund, has helped fund grocery-anchored shopping centers across the nation, and recognized the potential at the property now known as Mills Lumber.
“Did you ever think you’d see Mills Lumber look the way it is today?” Moreyra asked. “This particular event is a great event for us. Orlando is really coming back in a strong way.”
Dyer agreed, saying the groundbreaking ceremony demonstrated that Orlando was starting to move beyond the lingering impact of the recession.
“It’s a great day for the city of Orlando to have the groundbreaking for Mills Park,” the mayor said. “We thought we would be having this groundbreaking five years ago, but we’re happy to have it now. It shows we are moving out of recession and into prosperity.”
Even better, the mayor noted, is that his own fitness center is just a few blocks away.
“I will be able to stop at Fresh Market on my way home,” Dyer said. “This is just going to be such a great project, and we really encourage mixed use facilities.”
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