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October 4, 2015

Downtown Development

Water's Reflection

Ken Ibold | 7/1/2004
For many residents, the May opening of the Sanford Riverwalk is much more than a dedication of a 1.2-mile stretch of landscaped walkway; it is a reflection of confidence in the future of downtown Sanford.

The city spent $11 million on the project, a 12-foot-wide walkway along Lake Monroe punctuated by trellis swings, benches, telescopes and gazebos. The completed section runs from Mellonville Avenue past Fort Mellon Park and the Sanford Marina to French Avenue. A second phase, which may begin as early as this fall, will extend the walkway to the Central Florida Zoo.

The Riverwalk "has really energized a downtown that, really, has been dormant for 50 years or so," says Sanford Mayor Brady Lessard.

However, developers say that while the walkway is a nice addition, the rejuvenation was already in progress. In fact, homes in the historic district have been appreciating at double-digit annual increases for nearly a decade.

"It's much like the Baldwin Parks and the Thornton Parks and those kinds of areas that have boomed in Orlando, except it's in Sanford," says Bob Horian, president of Suncor Properties, a 9-year-old company that has several projects under way in Sanford. "And, of course, you have the waterfront there, which is very appealing."

Suncor is developing Gateway at Riverwalk, an eight-acre, $50-million project that will include retail space facing the water, a six-story, 60-unit condominium building that is 97% presold, and a 50-townhouse development with no water views that is 100% presold. The condos have sold for as much as $800,000. Horian hints at another $25 million in development that's virtually assured, as well as a larger project that may come to fruition this summer.

As a Riverwalk encore, the city has planned further improvements in the historic district. A $2-million plan, funded through the Community Redevelopment Agency, calls for a more pedestrian-friendly First Street between Oak Avenue and Sanford Avenue, with construction planned to begin in April and extend into next spring. But the plan hit a snag when high bids forced the city to "re-engineer" the plan and put it back out to bid, Lessard says.

Following that will be a new Seminole County Convention Center at Riverwalk. The city also wants to restore Fort Mellon Park into a family-friendly recreational area and eventually beautify North Shore Beach on Marina Island as well.

"We're thrilled that we were able to share our beautiful city with a few thousand folks," Lessard said after the opening of Riverwalk drew 65,000 visitors. "If the past few days are any indication, the event has catapulted Sanford in the minds of central Floridians as a place to eat, shop or just relax. We already live in the perfect place. We just thought we'd polish it a bit."

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