CRESCENTORLANDO.COM – Major new development starts on last vacant block downtown

Construction has begun on the last major undeveloped block of land in downtown Orlando and will include apartments, a hotel, offices, restaurants and shopping all tied into the new SunRail line.

There have been several big projects proposed for the prime location along Orange Avenue, but nothing was ever built. One of the scuttled plans — a tower topped by a giant open cube — was so tall that the Federal Aviation Administration nixed it because of aircraft-safety concerns.

Even as the years passed and other buildings downtown were demolished to make way for new construction, this block across the street from the Orange County Courthouse remained a vast vacant lot.

So the new development — Crescent at Central Station — is significant because it’s actually started, but also because of what’s next door.

The 6.4-acre property backs up to downtown Orlando’s main station for SunRail, the new commuter-train system that launches in May. The project has been designed as “transit-oriented development,” catering to urbanites who want easy access to mass transit.

It’s a big change for Orlando, where sprawl means tens of thousands of suburban commuters have little choice but to sit in cars on crowded highways during rush hour every day.

“A lot of the older guys like me don’t understand this intuitively in Orlando,” said Marc Reicher of Rida Development. “But with Gen Y, fewer people have drivers licenses; a lot of couples have one car or no car. They want to get places, and they’re very interested in the train.”

The mixed-use development is laid out so that downtown workers and residents will walk through it as they go to and from the train. A wide pedestrian promenade will cut through the center of the development, from the SunRail station to Orange Avenue.

“Not only will it serve as the front door to Orange Avenue, but also to SunRail,” Mayor Buddy Dyer said during a groundbreaking ceremony Thursday. “This is something we’ve been working with the developer on for a long time.”

The SunRail stop is also at the main Lynx station, giving commuters access to downtown’s free Lymmo bus circulator and regular Lynx bus service. The development connects to bike and pedestrian paths, as well, and there are plans for bike- and car-share programs.

There also will be a 60-foot-wide linear park on the west side of the development, and it will include an off-leash dog park.

It’s being built in phases. The first phase, representing a $56 million investment, is a six-story building with 279 apartments, an integrated parking garage and 15,000 square feet of retail space. Rida Development, which built ChampionsGate and Hilton Orlando, is also finishing the promenade, sidewalks and other infrastructure for the entire site in the first phase.

Wide sidewalks will surround the perimeter of the block, with large outdoor patios at the residential building’s Orange Avenue corners. “Bark and bike” retail space will be on the train side of the building, where residents can have their pets groomed and commuter bikes fixed.

When finished, Crescent at Central Station will be an estimated $150 million to $200 million project. As currently planned, later phases include a six-story, 125-room hotel; two office buildings of six and eight stories; and an eight-story stand-alone parking garage.

Timing of later phases will likely depend on market forces, as demand for offices currently remains light, and there are other new hotels planned downtown.

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