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3 retail projects loom on horizon

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The race of the giant open-air shopping centers in west Orange County is speeding up, as three large-scale projects hurry to cash in on a housing boom spreading through the area's once-rural landscape.

The retail developments -- two in Orange and one hugging the county line on Lake County's side -- are proposed within a 5-mile radius and would likely draw shoppers from many of the same subdivisions.

While developers and some market analysts say there's room for all three -- including two "regional power centers" with big-box super stores -- local planners aren't so sure.

"In my opinion, the area can't handle both regional centers," said Fred Milch, projects coordinator with the East Central Florida Planning Council, which reviews developments that have regional impact. "The big boxes won't pick both malls."

Intense competition isn't the only hurdle. Irate neighbors, unhappy about the thought of super stores in their back yards, and inadequate feeder roads also are causing headaches for developers.

Winter Garden Village at Fowler Groves would sit in the city on 174 acres at the north juncture of the Western Beltway and Winter Garden-Vineland Road (C.R. 535), just south of State Road 50.

At nearly 1.6 million square feet, the Village would be Central Florida's largest regional power center, with nearly 1.4 million square feet of retail space -- including several big-box stores and a 24-screen movie theater -- in its first phase.

It could be up and running in 2007 -- to the dismay of dozens of homeowners in nearby upscale subdivisions.

Its developer, the Sembler Co. of St. Petersburg, plans a second phase, scheduled for completion in 2010. It would add 260,000 square feet of office and retail space, a small hotel and 50 residential units.

Winter Garden commissioners will take public comments on the project tonight before voting on a land-use amendment that will change the Village site from low-density residential to "beltway center," a new designation.

The action is the first step in a regional and state approval process that will take months to return to Winter Garden for final consideration.

Homeowners Michael and Suzanne Gruszka, who moved to west Orange two years ago from New Jersey, say the traffic, noise and crime accompanying the Village would ruin their rural lifestyle.

They and other homeowners also are furious that the project's big-box stores would be clustered on the project's west side, closest to homes in three housing developments.

Their Wintermere Pointe neighborhood off C.R. 535 is a half-mile from the Village site.

"They told us it would be like Winter Park Village . . . it was misrepresented," Gruszka said of the Winter Garden project, nearly three times the size of the outdoor shopping center in Winter Park. "Would you build a $500,000 home next to a mall?"

A few miles south of the Village and just west of the Western Beltway, the mammoth, 28,000-acre community of Horizon West will offer Town Center -- a 1,957-acre commercial, retail and residential downtown -- to its five residential villages.

Although not scheduled for build-out until 2020, the Town Center likely will be delayed if the Village wins the race to open, regional planners say. Town Center developer Miller, Sellen, Connor & Walsh Inc. did not return numerous phone calls about the project.

On Tuesday, Orange County commissioners are expected to approve an amendment to the county's comprehensive growth plan to accommodate the Town Center development.

Northwest of the Village, on State Road 50, the 138-acre Plaza Collina outdoor center will stretch from the Orange County line nearly a mile into Lake County with 1.2 million square feet of mostly retail space.

About the size of Waterford Lakes Town Center in east Orange County, the Plaza's first phase could open as soon as the summer of 2006, said Colette Wharton, senior real estate manager for project developers Phoenicia Development LLC.

"There's been some discussion [that] there's not enough demand for three malls," acknowledged Chris Testerman, manager of Orange County's planning division, which has a lead role in developing Horizon West. "There's room for three, but can they all come up [open] at the same time?"

Probably not. Development insiders say Town Center is years down the road. They predict the shopping center that opens first will lead the pack in luring big-name retail stores -- and the existing customer base.

They're putting their money on Winter Garden Village, which is fast-tracking its way through the regulatory process with the help of city officials eager to add the project to the city's tax base.

The Sembler Co. will spend $250 million on the Village and build a four-lane road through its center to reduce traffic on two-lane C.R. 535, which borders the site.

"We wouldn't be this deep into the project without a feeling of success," said Sembler spokeswoman Lisa Brock. "Our analysis shows there's plenty of room for all three [projects]."

Retail analysts agree. They project 50,000 new homes in west Orange within 10 to 15 years -- enough to support three centers.

John Crossman, senior vice president and director of retail services at Trammell Crow Co., calls the battle for west Orange supremacy "Waterford Lakes all over again."

He recalled the race several years ago between Waterford Lakes Town Center, an outdoor mall, and nearby Oviedo Marketplace, an indoor mall. Both survived.

"West Orange has good bones," Crossman said. "Disney is there. The turnpike is there, and there's room to grow."

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I have never see ugly suburban buildings like Walmart or all the strip malls in all the other countries that I had been to until I came to the USA. They look like they are 50's desgigns

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I dont understand why they are allowing this. 535 is narrow and congested, not only that, but its actually kind of nice out there, and this could destroy the feel of the whole neighborhood. The Mall at Millenia, Belz Factory Outlet, and the Florida Mall are all without 20 minutes of Windermere.

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As far as I'm concerned, the burbs can have these shopping centers. From the description in the article, all these projects sound unremarkable.

I'd love to see a retail shopping district downtown, but I'm convinced that for it to succeed and add to the character of downtown it must somehow be unique and distinguishable from all of the other malls and Waterford Lakes in Central Florida. Few people are going to come downtown to shop if the experience isn't any different than shopping at their local cookie-cutter mall.

I can think of two ways a downtown shopping center could be unique. First, it should use its location downtown to its advantage and create something that simply cannot be recreated in the burbs. Second, it should attract companies that would not be interested in opening a store in a generic suburban shopping mall, but would be interested in opening a store in a hip urban in environment (that emphasized everything the store stood for). For example, think of a company like Ikea. The whole point of the company is to emphasize quality design at affordable prices. Putting a store like that in a soulless shopping center would undermine everything the company was about.

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If the majority of the condo's on the books get built, there might be enough critical mass to spawn a shopping district. There are a number of top end stores at Millenia that would probably fit better in an urban setting. Wanting a foothold in Orlando, Millenia was probably the best venue available at the time. Maybe some could be persuaded to relocate when the time comes.

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The Winter Garden Project is SORELY needed, Its a black hole for retail,, if you look at the entire area, thier are no retail available for all the new homes being built there, this brings the need for the winter Garden Marketplace by the Sembler Co. Its a quality project esp now that they have toned it down with a residential Transitional zone included.. the design of the Project is very Intresting, its full of architectural storefronts and rooftops like a town built over time.. check it out at Winter Garden Village

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