Some builders say demand is low for new urban development.
By: Chris Eversole
The outlook for development in the Gainesville area is mixed—with good news and bad news.
On one hand, building is picking up. On the other hand, some people involved in development are troubled by two challenges: fear that government is forcing development patterns down the throats of the business community and worries about potential overbuilding.
As Kara Bolton, president of the Builders Association of North Central Florida says, “The disaster is over, but the recovery and cleanup continues. We’re still licking our wounds.” Bolton was among the speakers at the recent University of Florida Bergstrom Center Real Estate Forum, organized by Beau Beery, president of Coldwell Banker Commercial M.M. Parrish Realtors.
The gradual turnaround is a relief from the struggles of the past five years, Bolton says. “We had to cut our staff, and we were about ready to pawn our children and pawn our jewelry,” she says of the slow period. She’s frustrated, she says, about Alachua County Government’s policies favoring “new urbanism,” which encourages small lots for single-family homes and multi-story buildings for apartments and condos—with stores and offices nestled in between.
“People here are very resistant to the urban lifestyle,” she says. “We don’t have enough concentration to support these types of development.”
New urbanism assumes that many people are going to live and work close together, reducing traffic by walking, biking and riding buses. “In a decade of selling over 200 homes, I’ve only had one buyer who was concerned about being able to bike to work,” Bolton says. But the trend toward an “urban lifestyle” is growing nationally, with both younger professionals and retirees moving away from the responsibilities of large homes, says Fred Schmidt, CEO of Coldwell Banker Commercial Worldwide. “There’s a big demographic shift going on,” says Schmidt, who spoke at the real estate forum.
SUB: Can High Expectations Be Met?
Many large projects are planned in the next five years, says Erik Bredfeldt, Gainesville’s director of economic development, planning and development services.
· The Hatchet Creek development around Ironwood Golf Course that could have up to 1,500 residences and a 400-bed assisted-living home.
· Development of thousands of acres of Plum Creek property located in the Hawthorne and Windsor area, coupled with preservation of a large part of the land.
· Expansion and redevelopment of Butler Plaza.
· Development of Innovation Square.
· New projects north of the UF campus.
In the area north of campus, projects that are being built or that are in the final stages of planning include University Corners, One University Corners and Roberts’ Stadium Club, notes Mike Ryals, senior vice president of the Commercial and Land Division of Bosshardt Realty Services.
“If it’s all built, what’s in the works will triple the amount of retail space north of University Avenue between 13th Street and 17th Street,” Ryals says. “I wonder if there’s enough business to support everything that’s planned?”
It’s possible the market can’t support everything, Bredfeldt says. “There will be a race to get things done,” he says. “We’ll see what happens and what gets financing.”
One area with great momentum is Innovation Square, located between UF and downtown, says John Fleming, managing partner of Trimark Properties.
Trimark, which owns apartment units directly east of campus, plans to break ground in May on the 150,000-square-foot Infusion Technology Center next to the Florida Innovation Hub, which is on Southwest Second Avenue.
The new building will have state-of-the art equipment and laboratories. “There are many businesses housed in facilities they were never meant to be in,” Fleming says. “Our building will enable them to reduce their footprints and increase their efficiency.”
As for shopping centers, people in the development industry have varying opinions.
Town centers, a hot trend in retailing, are likely to do well in Gainesville, says UF’s Betsy Trobaugh. “It’s not just about consumption. It’s about being entertaining,” says Trobaugh, who is the J. C. Penney director of UF’s David F. Miller Center for Retailing Education and Research.
The Gainesville area is a prime candidate for new national retailers, with more stores likely to follow DSW (Designer Shoe Warehouse) and Trader Joe’s, Trobaugh says. Gainesville attracts shoppers from an area with a population of about one million—stretching from Ocala to Lake City, notes Nick Banks, managing director of Front Street Commercial Real Estate Group.
“There is great demand from national retailers, but nowhere that meets their needs for them to go,” Banks says about the potential for town centers planned at Butler Plaza and the Springhills development.
In contrast, Orlando developer Daryl Carter says too many developers throughout Florida got enticed by town centers, and some have failed. “They’ve been overdone,” says Carter, who is president of Maury L. Carter and Associates.
SUB: Debating Role of Government
Some participants in the real estate forum vented frustrations with government.
“What’s wrong is when government starts limiting people’s choices,” Carter says. “I don’t want someone to tell me what color to paint my house and to tell me that I can’t cut down a tree.”
Fleming of Trimark says the city’s cooperation in developing Innovation Square has been outstanding.
Bredfeldt, who just took on the role of ombudsman for the city, says he and city staff want a good development review process. “I hope that Innovation Square becomes a template of how we do things,” he says. As ombudsman, he can be a problem-solver when people encounter a snag in any part of city government, including Gainesville Regional Utilities or the city attorney’s office.
Both city and county government have taken strides in cooperating with the business community, says Dave Ferro of Ferro Commercial Realty. “There are a lot more advocates for you than you realize,” he says. “Don’t base your views only on experience from the past. That reality isn’t permanent.”