Shiny development planned for gritty Downtown Arts District

Sculptors, artisan welders, painters, screen printers, furniture makers and other craftsmen have taken root in a cluster of warehouses north of downtown Orlando, helping to bring a cool vibe to Ivanhoe Village and the Lake Formosa area that other urban neighborhoods covet.

They worked in relative obscurity for years, and neighbors liked it that way: Hidden gems have more sparkle if you’re in on the secret. It’s only in the past couple of years that the rest of Orlando has started to notice the gritty industrial-arts district between downtown and Florida Hospital.

Now a developer has taken notice, too. About a year from now, all those warehouses along Alden Road will be demolished to make way for a mixed-use development with 585 apartments and buildings as tall as nine stories.

“This area has a lot going on — arts, music, crafts — and it has for years. To lose this is a major blow to the community as a whole, not just the neighborhood,” said Michael Rizzo, who grew up in the area and lives near the site.

Real Estate Inverlad Development LLC is scheduled to close on the property on Nov. 10. Chance Gordy, a fifth-generation Orlandoan and the company’s vice president, said he wants to honor the area’s roots by incorporating art studios, performance space and an industrial feel into its design.

Architect Tim Baker put it this way: “What we’re going for is something very creative overlaid with something very industrial overlaid with something very artful … . We want artists — sculptors, painters, welders — that kind of stuff is what we envision.”

But some artists doubt there will be a home for them in the carefully planned buildings that will displace their uncontrived warehouse work spaces.

“The thing that makes it so cool is there are so many artists and artisans who are creating so much amazing work, and that’s going away,” said Michael Marinaccio, producer for the Orlando Fringe Festival, whose offices will also be displaced. “The reason artists do their work in warehouses is because they can afford it. Most of the artists are either going to be priced out or sized out.”

The property is just east of Lake Ivanhoe and north of Virginia Drive, with Orange Avenue and the railroad tracks on one side and the Lake Formosa neighborhood on the other. As they pass antique shops and eateries on Orange Avenue, motorists are accustomed to seeing the back walls of the warehouses to the east.

On Tuesday, the development team took the step of meeting with Lake Formosa residents and business owners to talk about their ideas before submitting plans to City Hall.

They unveiled conceptual renderings and tentative plans — they’re likely to change — that showed multiple buildings, dubbed The Yard at Ivanhoe. One would be seven stories along the railroad tracks and Orange Avenue, stepping down to five and then four stories along Philadelphia Avenue, nearest the neighborhood’s single-family homes. Another, running east and west and visible from Virginia Drive, would be nine stories.

There would be a pedestrian thoroughfare along the tracks, a gallery walk with art studios on the ground floor. To the south, fronting Virginia Drive, there would be shops and a grassy linear park that could host live music, wine tastings and other events. The developer hopes to find room for The Venue, a popular performance space that also stands in the way.

With a nod to the site’s industrial pedigree, two sizable steel storage tanks would remain and be repurposed in some way, and container buildings could house a microbrewery or coffee shop.

An 1,150-space parking garage would have enough room to accommodate residents and customers at both new and existing businesses in the area.

It’s potentially a prime spot for midrise residential space. Towering above the rest of the neighborhood, residents would have views of Lake Ivanhoe, Lake Formosa, Lake Highland and Lake Rowena, and the downtown skyline to the south.

Gordy said the plan is sensitive to the neighborhood and scaled to fit. The current zoning would allow up to 1,400 residential units with city approval — more than twice what’s planned.

Even so, residents are worried about exacerbating traffic problems, particularly at the intersection of Orange Avenue and Virginia Drive. The developer says improvements to Virginia, including lengthening a right-turn lane, should alleviate gridlock.

When it comes to commercial space, the developer plans 30,000 square feet where 300,000 would be allowed.

One business that won’t be there is The Thirsty Topher. The bar opened in a former maintenance shed last November after owners Jason Perez and Ron DiDonato spent months bringing it up to code themselves because they couldn’t afford to pay others. In less than a year, the bar has become a hot spot with an eclectic mix of neighborhood residents, craftsmen and millennial hipsters.

“When I first heard about the plans, I was shocked,” Perez said. “It was like the carpet was pulled out from under us.”

They plan to stay open as long as they can, and then reopen somewhere else in Ivanhoe Village.

Their work space, with its forklift and tanks of welding gas, isn’t likely to fit into the new development. And even those who could fit may have a hard time, because they would have to move elsewhere during construction that would take a year or more.

Still, at Gordy’s invitation, the Harmelings are forming a committee of artists who will work with the developer to guide the design.

“I don’t know how much hope there is to keep some of the essence of what we all have here,” Jacquelyn Harmeling said. “But I’ll die trying.”

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