Own­ers weigh whether to save or raze his­toric build­ings

Orlando Sentinel - - FRONT PAGE - By Mary Shanklin | Staff Writer

Church Street Ex­change, Grand Av­enue Ele­men­tary and the for­mer home of the Or­lando Bal­let are the lat­est Or­lando land­marks to face the prospect of new iden­ti­ties in­stead of de­mo­li­tion.

The fate of those build­ings comes into play as some de­vel­op­ers and own­ers are look­ing at “adap­tive re­use,” a move­ment gain­ing mo­men­tum na­tion­ally.

“I think peo­ple are fi­nally re­al­iz­ing that these kind of place-mak­ing build­ings, you re­ally can’t re-cre­ate,” said Richard Forbes, his­toric preser­va­tion of­fi­cer for Or­lando.

Sit­ting atop some of the most valu­able land in Cen­tral Florida, the Church Street Ex­change in down­town Or­lando was re­cently listed for sale. Grand Av­enue Ele­men­tary south­west of down­town sits va­cant with school of­fi­cials dis­cussing its fate. And the Or­lando Util­i­ties Com­mis­sion has started weigh­ing op­tions to sell or ren­o­vate an Ital­ian Palazzo Re­vival-style 1920s power plant and one-time arts cen­ter over­look­ing Lake Ivan­hoe.

The fate of the Church Street Ex­change, the OUC build­ing and Grand Av­enue are likely to re­main un­cer­tain for com­ing months as their own­ers weigh op­tions. This year, the OUC stud­ied reg­u­la­tory steps re­quired to ren­o­vate its build­ing on Lake Ivan­hoe, which is a his­toric land­mark, and ex­pects to

make a de­ci­sion on its fate as soon as this year, a spokesman said.

Or­lando of­fi­cials are con­cerned that the Grand Av­enue school, which is also a land­mark, could be de­mol­ished, but school district of­fi­cials say it could be part of a land swap with the city. The util­ity-owned build­ing and the school are both some­what pro­tected as his­toric land­marks. The ex­change build­ing, which most re­cently housed tech star­tups, has a late 19th Cen­tury look, but was built in the 1980s and sits just out­side a his­toric district, Forbes said.

Be­yond pre­serv­ing the charm and char­ac­ter of a build­ing, reused build­ings help ig­nite nearby neigh­bor­hoods, said Or­lando at­tor­ney Kim­berly Ashby. She pointed to the for­mer Or­ange County Court­house’s ren­o­va­tion as a his­tory mu­seum and the re­lo­ca­tion of the Casa Feliz and Capen houses to become cul­tural venues in Win­ter Park.

“It not only re­pur­poses the build­ing, it re­pur­poses the neigh­bor­hood and the whole com­mu­nity,” she said.

Across Or­ange Av­enue from the Chase Plaza build­ing, a Wal­greens re­cently opened in what had been the 1920s-era First Na­tional Bank build­ing. Next to a down­town Or­lando SunRail sta­tion, the Ace Cafe vin­tage mo­tor­cy­cle venue re­cently de­buted in the for­mer build­ing-sup­ply shop owned by Harry P. Leu, name­sake of Leu Gar­dens. And McRae Art Stu­dios re­cently opened in the old McNa­mara Pontiac paint and body shop off West Colo­nial Drive.

Artist Robert Ross said McRae Stu­dios’ re­lo­ca­tion from Win­ter Park to the body shop in north Par­ramore has added some au­then­tic­ity to the arts scene.

“This build­ing, I love it. They kept a lot of the things in here that looked like a car­repair place — huge roll-gate doors that are made up of 20 panes,” the artist said. “It looks so beau­ti­ful, I’ve done two paint­ings just look­ing through it. They left the ceil­ing with duct­work hang­ing there and the floor is the con­crete that was here be­fore.”

Forbes pointed to the re­cent recla­ma­tion of an old Or­lando church, at 331 Cath­cart Ave. It had been con­sid­ered for de­mo­li­tion by the Catholic Diocese un­til a de­vel­oper pur­chased it and trans­formed it into Sam­sara lux­ury town­homes. Near Or­lando City Hall, Aloft Ho­tel re­pur­posed for­mer OUC of­fices near Or­lando City Hall in 2013 rather than build­ing anew. An­other of­ten-cited re­use project is de­vel­oper John Rife’s twist on an old Bap­tist Church near Bald­win Park. He re­pur­posed it as a col­lec­tion of re­tail­ers known as East End Mar­ket.

But recla­ma­tion doesn’t fit ev­ery­one’s bud­get.

“There is a sur­prise around ev­ery turn. Those “‘uh, oh’” mo­ments just add to the bot­tom line. The re­turn on in­vest­ment has to be that, by sav­ing it, you are cre­at­ing some value to the con­sumer,” Rife said. “There’s so lit­tle ar­chi­tec­tural his­tory that, what lit­tle we have, we have to hold onto.”

Ace Cafe owner Mark McKee said he saw few retro-style build­ings with char­ac­ter when he was scout­ing Or­lando lo­ca­tions a few years ago. Find­ing the old Leu build­ing was a fluke, he said.

Trans­form­ing the longne­glected struc­ture into a des­ti­na­tion cafe cost sub­stan­tially more and took about twice as long as it would have taken to build, he said.

City of­fi­cials said one of the build­ings on the prop­erty col­lapsed, fur­ther slow­ing the process. “For us, it was do­ing it in a way that was true to our brand. And we are in it for the long term and we be­lieve our guests ap­pre­ci­ate what we’ve done,” McKee said. “Any­body can build a new stucco build­ing.”

Preser­va­tion is some­times im­pos­si­ble, said Rob Nun­zi­ata, chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of FBC Mort­gage.

He was part of the group that pur­chased and ren­o­vated the up­per lev­els of the old bank build­ing at Church Street and Or­ange Av­enue, now home to Wal­greens.

“I love down­town. I’ve lived and worked here for­ever. You un­der­stand it’s a great place to live, but a lot of de­vel­op­ers don’t want to deal with the park­ing con­straints and va­grants. And to try to take old build­ings and ren­o­vate to to­day’s stan­dards is ask­ing a lot,” he said. “At some point, build­ings have a func­tional ob­so­les­cence. For a down­town, you need a mix of both — old and new.”


AF­TER: Ace Café, a hub for vin­tage-mo­tor­cy­cle and cus­tom-car events, opened in the Leu build­ing.


BE­FORE: Lo­cal busi­ness­man and civic leader Harry P. Leu owned this hard­ware and build­ing sup­ply shop.


AF­TER: In 2017, a Wal­greens store moved into the four-story build­ing that once housed the down­town bank.


BE­FORE: The First Na­tional Bank build­ing was de­signed by Or­lando ar­chi­tect Howard M. Reynolds dur­ing the Great De­pres­sion.


AF­TER: In 2013, the East End Mar­ket — in the build­ing that for­merly housed the church — opened in Or­lando’s Audubon Park neigh­bor­hood, of­fer­ing lo­cal culi­nary de­lights.

BE­FORE: The for­mer Cor­rine Drive Bap­tist Church was listed in a Novem­ber 2007 ad in the Or­lando Sentinel as “a step back in time to a church that still preaches the old-time gospel.”


AF­TER: In 2014, the ex­change build­ing be­came a hub for technology com­pa­nies, but re­cently went up for sale.


BE­FORE: The Church Street Ex­change Build­ing, shown here in the 1980s, once at­tracted droves of theme park tourists.

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