Even Winter Park was hit by the Great Recession.
Although it may not have been as bad off as some other parts of Central Florida, the city’s commercial strip along U.S. Highway 17-92 paid a price: Office space sat empty for years, an ice-cream shop gave way to a “we buy gold” store and the Borders bookstore closed as the national chain went out of business.
These days, however, the sound of construction has returned to the area around Winter Park Village.
Several projects will bring banks, restaurants, office space and more to the 17-92 vicinity. Some projects are near completion. Others have received city approval, though construction has yet to begin.
“We’ve got a bunch of things happening,” said Jeff Briggs, the city’s development director. “After a very quiet two or three years of very little development, it’s good to see that there is some bounce-back.”
While the massive Ravaudage development at 17-92 and Lee Road awaits a key decision on revenue-sharing from the City Commission, several smaller projects are taking shape:
•Trustco Bank is buying a mostly empty three-story office building at 950 N. Orlando Ave. (17-92) and plans to convert it to a bank branch and a headquarters for its Florida operations, with the remainder to be rented out.
•Just to the south, a Wawa convenience store — the first in Winter Park — is to be built at 901 N. Orlando Ave. on land that once was home to a motel and dry-cleaning business.
•Another block south, at 810 N. Orlando Ave., TD Bank is planning a 4,000-square-foot branch on a vacant lot that was once home to a BP gas station.
•The city has approved the demolition of the old Borders store in Winter Park Village. In place of the Borders, which has been vacant since 2011, would be two structures: a Chase bank branch and a building housing retail and a Starbucks with a drive-through window.
•Liquidation Station, which sells unique home décor items, is going out of business in the 300 block of Orlando Avenue. But its three buildings won’t stay vacant for long. A Performance Bicycle store will soon open in one of them, and retail tenants are lined up for the other two, as well.
•Carmel Café and Wine Bar, a Mediterranean restaurant, is under construction and is expected to open by June at 140 N. Orlando Ave.
The new development also extends east of 17-92. A 105-unit affordable-housing project for seniors is under way behind Winter Park Village at 550 N. Denning Drive; 204 apartments are planned at the site of the old driver’s license office at 940 W. Canton Ave.; and an 80,000-square-foot office building is set to open in August at the site of the old state office building at 941 W. Morse Blvd.
The construction will help a Winter Park office market that has seen vacancy rates plunge from more than 13 percent in 2011 to less than 5.5 percent today, according to real-estate consultants Cushman & Wakefield.
Ray Hayhurst, a Cushman & Wakefield retail analyst, said the 17-92 strip in Winter Park is extremely attractive for developers.
“You have huge traffic counts, you have a very significant upscale population, and you have Florida Hospital as one of the largest job generators in the region,” he said. “Everybody is trying to take advantage of the long history of Winter Park as a good retail destination, not only for Winter Park and Maitland residents, but also drawing people who live 10 to15 miles away.”
Briggs added: “It shows at least that in some areas of Central Florida, the economy is rebounding.”