October 23, 2014

Retail

Prime Target

Winter Garden, a bedroom community of Orlando, sets its sights on business growth.

Diane Sears | 11/1/2005
A $120-million open-air shopping complex slated for construction next year in Winter Garden signals a change in the landscape of the west Orange County city, just as West Oaks Mall forever altered neighboring Ocoee when it opened in 1996.

CHANGING LANDSCAPE: "We think Winter Garden, in effect, is going to be the heart of west Orange County," says City Manager Mike Bollhoefer.The 1.15-million-sq.-ft. Winter Garden Village at Fowler Groves is only one sign of a growth spurt that involves much more than shopping. In the past five years, the city has grown from 14,000 residents to 25,000, and its population is expected to top 35,000 by 2010, says City Manager Mike Bollhoefer.

Situated astride State Road 50, Winter Garden is a suburb of Orlando, where many of its residents work. But leaders have set their sights on attracting new jobs to Winter Garden. Besides the 2,300 positions the shopping complex is expected to create, the city is earmarking an area on its eastern border near Plant Street and the State Road 429 toll road as a business center where it hopes to lure high-tech companies that pay high salaries.

Winter Garden is also revitalizing its historic downtown, where several projects are under way for the next three years, including building a new City Hall and restoring an old theater and other buildings from the 1920s and 1930s.

"We think Winter Garden, in effect, is going to be the heart of west Orange County," Bollhoefer says. "Our downtown is really the only one in west Orange."

The city's extraordinary residential growth made it a prime target for St. Petersburg-based Sembler Co., which is pumping $12 million in impact fees into the shopping center project, its largest ever. Over 20 years, the development will generate an estimated $5.5 million to $7.5 million in property taxes. Sembler is paying for road improvements surrounding the project and is donating $400,000 to the city for parks, the city manager says.

Winter Garden Village is expected to include major anchors such as Super Target and Lowe's. Designed as three centers in one, it also will include outparcels along County Road 535, such as banks, restaurants and a coffee shop, and a "main street" area with smaller lifestyle-type shops.

Sembler ran into opposition early on from residents worried about having such a massive development in their back yard. In response, it nixed a movie theater that would have brought more night traffic and scaled back the project to about two-thirds its original size. In 22 years, Sembler has never developed a center where there's so much unmet need, says Craig Sher, the company's president and CEO.

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