By Anthony Clark | The Gainesville Sun
Developer optimism has returned to the Gainesville market with several long-stalled projects back on track, some under new ownership, and new phases of residential subdivisions preparing to open for construction.
In just the past two weeks, road work has started for two mixed-use developments that promise a mix of apartments, retail and office space within walkable, bikeable communities served by buses.
Celebration Pointe started clearing land this week in preparation of building a new four-lane Southwest 45th Street connecting Archer Road to the new town center planned for about 1,000 townhomes, condominiums and apartments, a hotel and 300,000 square feet of retail and office space between Lake Kanapaha and the west side of Interstate 75.
The development plan also includes a bridge over I-75 that would connect to the planned northern expansion of Butler Plaza.
Last week, Minnesota-based developer NP International started building a park-and-ride lot on University of Florida property west of the Hilton University of Florida Conference Center as part of road work that will include extending Hull Road west into the new West 38 development. The property will include student apartments, a parking garage and possibly a convention center, hotel, office and retail space.
West 38 replaces the previous Creekside at Beville Run project that had been planned on about 75 acres in the urban village land use envisioned as dense urban infill in meetings 15 years ago between Alachua County, city of Gainesville and University of Florida officials. Creekside was abandoned during the recession.
On the residential side, a new owner has resumed developing the Oakmont development with approval for 203 home lots in phase one of the four-phase project off of Parker Road and Southwest 24th Avenue. Builders are seeking county approval to add 295 more homes in Arbor Greens in Jonesville and 99 homes in the Estates of Wilds Plantation near Oakmont.
Garrison Investment Group of New York City bought the West 38 property from the original developer two years ago and hired NP International to develop the property.
The initial phase includes extending Hull Road west and south to Southwest 20th Avenue.
In June, the city Development Review Board approved three four-story apartment buildings with 253 units and 676 bedrooms, and a four-story parking deck. The Grove at Gainesville will be built by Campus Crest Communities, a Charlotte, N.C., real estate investment trust that owns 39 student housing properties.
The development could include additional student housing projects, said Nick Banks of Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group, which is marketing the development.
Banks said the student housing market has come a long way over the past two years, with occupancy rates "north of 90 percent" and free giveaways to new tenants ending at many complexes.
"There's some pent-up demand and maybe some opportunity for new development," he said.
Banks said he is talking to a hotel developer and "local stakeholders" interested in bringing a large convention center. The development also could include office users interested in being near the university and small specialty retailers interested in capturing people that start and end their day on buses, as well as large, destination-type retailers that draw from a broader area.
NP International's website refers to a research park for UF.
Brent Reynolds, managing partner of NP International, said the developer would have more details in a couple of weeks as it firms up deals with "specific end-users."
Celebration Pointe was the first project approved under the county's transit-oriented development land use in November 2010, which replaces road impact fees with transportation fees to fund bus service and bicycle and pedestrian paths.
The project is starting with a new road to provide access for heavy construction expected to begin in early 2014 with the first phase expected to open in the fall of 2015, said Svein Dyrkolbotn, managing member of Celebration Pointe Development Partners.
He said he can't yet disclose what the first phase will entail.
The project is moving forward because the economy is picking up and because the developer has had a lot of interest from end-users, including tenants and other developers that want to build different components, he said.
Selling points include a half mile of visible I-75 frontage and access to Archer Road.
Project spokesman Mark Winter said the appeal to office tenants is that it will be a place for employees to go out for lunch and walk from nearby residences.
"It makes it unique from a residential and office standpoint, and from a retail standpoint, where the sum of the parts is greater than the parts themselves," he said.
The residential component provides a built-in market for retail and restaurant tenants, as well as drawing from the more-than-1,000 apartments directly surrounding Celebration Pointe, Dyrkolbotn said.
As for the residential component, he said the development will cater to the underserved non-student multifamily market, comparing their plans to the Tioga Town Center apartments over retail space.
In the single-family home market, a partnership affiliated with South Florida developer CC Residential of Coral Gables bought the Oakmont property in December and received county approval in July to develop 203 home lots in phase one.
The 200-acre project south of Southwest 24th Avenue and east of Parker Road was originally approved for more than 900 homes.
The owner did not return calls for comment.
On Aug. 22, the county Development Review Committee is scheduled to consider development plans to expand Arbor Greens by 295 lots and Estates of Wilds Plantation by 99 lots.
Neely Davis, broker with RE/MAX Professionals, said a lack of new home construction in recent years and increasing home sales has increased demand for new homes.
Davis is representing Trematerra Custom Homes, owner of the Estates of Wilds Plantation expansion.
"All the inventory is way down," she said. "We're struggling to find properties for people."