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Baldwin Park's next big step:

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Bob Mervine

Staff Writer

ORLANDO -- Tony Amadore won't have to wait much longer to start stretching his dining choices in Baldwin Park beyond shrink-wrapped supermarket items.

"I'm sure tired of eating Publix chicken and Publix sushi," says Amadore, a Baldwin resident for nearly two years. "Some new food items will be just fine with me."

Next month, Amadore and the roughly 2,500 other residents of the upscale neighborhood will start seeing the first of what will be a smorgasbord of nearly two dozen eating establishments crop up in the project's town center.

With 17 restaurants leased out of 21 or 22 potential locations -- and 12 planned to open between February and May -- Baldwin Park's developers have reconfigured the Village Center of the third-generation New Urbanism project to emphasize a key ingredient.

"We're probably a little bit restaurant heavy," says Amy Young, director of leasing for Unicorp National Developments, which owns the Village Center and controls leasing rights.

First up at Baldwin Park will be La China, a Chinese takeout-only operation, and Pizzeria Valdiano, a sit-down Italian restaurant. Both locations are expected to open within days of each other in mid- to late February, says Jack Jia, who owns three other Orlando restaurants, including two La China stores.

Pizzeria Valdiano was going to be owner John Liquroi's first location when he signed up two years ago. However, like many of the nearly two dozen restaurants headed for Baldwin Park, the schedule changed -- and changed -- and changed.

Unicorp officials blame the town center's delays on city permitting, damage from the hurricanes late last summer and changes in construction planning.

Subs to sushi

In time, Baldwin Park's menu items will run the gamut -- from popular names such as Subway, Planet Smoothie and Cold Stone Creamery to Seito Sushi, which now is found in Winter Park Village and Celebration.

New concepts will include Fresh Mouth Burgers, a gourmet burger and sandwich concept founded in Tampa, and Doc Green's Gourmet Salads, a new fresh salad concept developed by Atlanta-based Raving Brands. Another newcomer will be Morning Glories, a gourmet breakfast restaurant operated by Orlandoan Beverly Schumacher.

Occupying the Village's premier space -- at the end of New Broad Street fronting Lake Baldwin and a community amphitheater where community events will be staged -- will be five high-profile locations, each with valet parking.

Four of the five prime spots are leased with openings set for the fall. The fifth is open, and Young would love to fill the space with an Irish pub, a French restaurant or "a very high-quality oyster bar and seafood restaurant."

Two Baldwin establishments will be familiar to many Central Floridians.

Joanne McMahon is planning an as-yet-unnamed version of her 310 Park South eatery in Winter Park that features family dining.

"We'll feature healthy foods -- lots of fresh fish -- for lunch and dinner," says McMahon, who adds she's realistically planning a January 2006 opening for her 220-seat location.

Next door will be the second location for Za-Bistro!, the casual neighborhood bistro in Maitland. Founder Chris Mueller says he'll serve wood-fired pizzas, hot sandwiches and full entrees.

Sports bar, piano bar

New to the Central Florida market will be Gatsby's, an upscale sports bar that has found success in four South Florida locations.

Centered around six professional pool tables, Gatsby's main room is loaded with large screen televisions for sports broadcasts. Special event nights, an emphasis on local sports teams and a proactive approach to charities are part of the company's business plan, says Steve Marino, marketing vice president for KMH Corp, the parent company.

Unicorp's Young says the signature restaurant of the development will be Lago, an Italian restaurant with a waterfront view.

A sister to a Giovanni's Restaurant in Jacksonville Beach, Lago's cuisine is described as Italian with a continental flair. Gianni Archiello, whose brother is executive chef in Jacksonville, describes a clean, contemporary dining room with a kitchen, complete with wood-burning oven, elevated and center stage. A 360-degree bar with a piano will provide a separate gathering spot.

Despite the inconvenience and out-of-pocket costs of the delays, Mueller, the Za-Bistro! founder, believes the people behind Baldwin Park's restaurants are understanding about the problems and still eager to open.

Altogether, 12 restaurants are scheduled to open between February and May.

The other five dining spots with signed leases and other late-added leases aren't due to be finished until at least September or October. Those owners say they think that timetable is optimistic. While their reactions to the delays range from frustration to annoyance, all agree they are in the right place. In fact, they say, the postponement has given Baldwin Park time to mature and add more new residents.

Despite the delays, David Pace, managing director of Baldwin Park, is guardedly optimistic Unicorp has the town center component of the development on the right track.

"We're rooting for them to stay focused on construction and the opening," says Pace, referring to the town center's grand opening scheduled in May.

Mueller, who also is the interim director of the Center for Multi-use Restaurants at the University of Central Florida, says even though he's lost money on equipment and staff because of the delays, he thinks his second restaurant is ideally positioned.

"I believe this will become an urban entertainment district in the next two years, with more things to do and places to go than comparable areas such as Thornton Park," Mueller says. "It will be a magnet for people."

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