Redevelopment gets good news, bad news

The good news at last week's meeting of the Community Redevelopment Agency was that another developer wants to build a six-story, mixed-use complex across the street from Echelon at Cheney Place, the four-story apartments on Orange Avenue a quarter mile north of Colonial Drive.

The Echelon, which is 92 percent rented, was built two years ago with the help of $1.3 million in CRA subsidies. Another Echelon development one block north, built with $1.2 million in CRA subsidies, is almost completed.

The fact that GDC Properties wants to build a 338-unit apartment complex across the street from Echelon means that the subsidies are working as promised in an area of downtown once dormant, in part because of worries that the ground was contaminated with TCE (a toxic cleaning solvent used by printers and originally traced to the Orlando Sentinel's downtown plant).

"At one point the area was going to be a high-rise office district during what people called the go-go '80s," says Frank Billingsley, the new CRA executive director. Instead, only one high-rise was built: the 19-story One Orlando Centre.

The GDC development, if it moves forward, might contain street-level retail shops and restaurants as well as a 33,000-square-foot grocery.

In addition, a 10-story apartment complex, the Remington Plaza, is working its way through the permitting process. It will also be located across the street from the Echelon, but to the south of the GDC building.

That was the good news the CRA board received. The bad news was that taxpayers might be out $40,000 because of a subsidy that didn't pan out.

Last fall, the CRA gave Sharon Hadley, the owner of Jungle Jim's restaurant on Church Street, $40,000 to remodel the interior of her business. The remodeling job ended midway in the process, according to the CRA, and the restaurant has been closed, leaving board members to worry they might not recoup their investment.

"We're going to go back and look at the developer's agreement to see if we retain the right to seek repayment," Billingsley said. He added that future agreements will include benchmarks developers must reach before receiving subsidies. Hadley, who owns a property-management company on Bumby Avenue, could not be reached for comment.

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