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Young developer makes big impact downtown

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Kodsi plans new mixed-use project for northwest corner of Colonial Drive, Orange Avenue

Noelle C. Haner

Staff Writer

At 31, Steve Kodsi is one of several young developers who are changing the landscape of downtown Orlando, one mixed-use condo project at a time.

Thus far, the owner of Historic Creations Design & Development has two projects under his belt -- the Buddy Ebsen Dance School loft conversion and The Sanctuary, a 173-unit, 18-story condo.

Over the next three years, he will add three more projects to the list.

The most ambitious of the new projects is a 7-acre, mixed-use project proposed for the northwest corner of Colonial Drive and Orange Avenue. Dubbed "Mid-town," Kodsi believes the project's plans for 700-800 residential units, 500,000 square feet of commercial space and a 1,700-space parking garage will bridge the downtown central business district and the new development in Orlando's Uptown area. The property was bought earlier this year from Sentinel Communications for $6.7 million.

And, although the Colonial Drive/Orange Avenue project is not slated to break ground until 2007, Kodsi already is working on the plans. "The residential units will include a boutique hotel, rentals and condos, and we have a sports channel that wants to broadcast from the development," he says.

"This is the next step in the evolution of Orange Avenue," says Kodsi. "We consider this intersection Main and Main. It's where everything meets in downtown."

In addition, Historic Creations recently bought the former Kinko's building at the corner of Robinson and Magnolia streets. The building will become the headquarters for Historic Creations as well as accommodate retail and restaurant tenants.

Moreover, Kodsi plans to build the 105-unit Star Tower condo project. Located on Osceola Avenue between Jackson and Mariposa streets, work won't begin on it until next year, but there already are 800 people on the waiting list.

Redevelopment and urban cowboys

To be sure, redevelopment has been the catchphrase for downtown Orlando for more than a decade.

The movement dates back to the '90s when City Hall and the Downtown Development Board focused on residential and commercial development in Parramore and the central business district.

During that time, Orange County built a new courthouse, and Orlando got a new City Hall. CNL Financial Group built a high-rise office building. Hughes Supply Inc. built a $53 million mixed-use project -- Hughes Square. And today, construction on the new Federal Courthouse and the new Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University law school campus are part of what was envisioned for downtown redevelopment.

At the same time, a group of young urban developers -- age 45 and under -- began creating their own visions of downtown, beginning with some of Orlando's urban neighborhoods.

Phil Rampy and Craig Ustler led the charge, redeveloping the Thornton Park area. The two teamed to build one of the first new condo projects in the area in years. Construction on Thornton Park Central began in 2000, and today, the 56-loft, 300,000-square-foot, upscale, mixed-used urban village is one of downtown's great redevelopment stories.

The reasons are twofold, says Ustler, who is also a partner in Condo HQ Orlando LLC with Rampy. "We are our own customers," explains Ustler. "We like the diversity and the energy of urban living. We live what we build."

Then there is the risk factor. "Young developers tend to take the risks associated with urban development," notes Ustler.

Michael Beyard, senior resident fellow with The Urban Land Institute, agrees. "This is certainly the case in more entrepreneurial situations where it takes more passion than formula to get a project done," says Beyard. "These projects are more difficult to do, more time-consuming -- and while they also have more staying power in terms of long-term investment -- big developers can't wait for those returns. Wall Street demands a quick turnaround."

In his blood

Enter Kodsi.

For him, working in real estate and development is genetic. His father, Albert Kodsi, is the owner and president of Royal Palm Communities, a 25-year-old, Orlando-based home-building and development firm. Over the years, Kodsi has watched his dad develop nearly 50 condo projects in Central and South Florida.

Fresh from college, Kodsi came to Orlando in 1996, and he dove head-first into the family business. He launched Historic Creations a year later, focusing his sights on "intense" and dense development in downtown Orlando.

Kodsi started with an 11-unit project on Pine Street. There, with the help of his father, Kodsi's company built five custom homes and converted the former Buddy Ebsen Dance School into six lofts.

Then in October 2000, he began assembling land at the northwest corner of South Eola Drive and East Church Street. Taking a page from his father's game book and banking on the development of Thornton Park Central, Kodsi decided to build The Sanctuary -- the first high-rise condo project Orlando has seen in years.

"People asked me if I did any market research," says Kodsi." My market research was walking around Lake Eola with my friends and their dogs. I felt it in my gut. The area needed the supply, and the demand was already here."

The gamble paid off. Currently, 85 percent of The Sanctuary's 173 condos are under contract, and Kodsi says leases for the 30,000 square feet of retail are being negotiated. The entire project will be complete next summer.

Certainly, redevelopment advocates believe Kodsi's development risk will be downtown Orlando's reward. According to Frank Billingsly, executive director of the Downtown Development Board, the project will bring new activity to a long-neglected downtown corner.

"This is a gateway intersection for downtown," says Billingsly. "Having a new development there will help anchor that corner, and will be a good link between the downtown core and uptown."

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This really is an underdeveloped area especially considering its location. Glad to hear this.

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Has anyone heard anything about these three new projects in Midtown?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

I depends on what three you are talking about. The three that comes to mind are 1) Benchmark and Condo. - only rough plans no start date

2) Something on the Pizzuti lot accross from courthouse -- said to be big, said design decisions are yet to be made but using top consultants to come up with some with real sense of "place." No start date.

3) NW corner of Orange and 50 ... Kodsi big (700-800 residents plus commercial. Estimated start 2007.

That about sums up what I know if these are the three you are refering to.

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The midtown area wont take off until the Pizzuti block is developed. After it does, I imagine rapid growth in that area.

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IMO it really depends on what they put on pizzuti. So far it all sounds promising but this "sense of place" they talk about really has to be special. I don't think people will cluster around midtown just because one big project gets built and the courthouse doesn't add anything to the critical mass because it's just a place to work. Pizzuti is a big lot and the developers are talking the right talk. Fingers are crossed.

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The Star Tower, Kodsi's Second Project, is expected to break ground in April.

Royal Palm Homes and Historic Creations will break ground on their second downtown condominium high-rise -- The Star -- in mid-April.

Currently, the two Orlando-based development companies are building The Sanctuary, a 172-unit, mixed-use downtown condo development. To date, the project is 80 percent sold, and residents are planning to move in this fall.

The Star's 18-story tower will include a five-story parking garage, as well as one-, two- and three-bedroom condos. Prices range from $315,000 to $800,000.

With presales now under way for The Star, more than 40 of the project's 100 proposed condos have been reserved.

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This is right beside the Osceola Brownstones, right?

<{POST_SNAPBACK}>

Exactly

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