110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
By Joe Crews
posted Jul 21, 2014 - 2:37:56pm
A major redevelopment project in downtown DeLand is dead, after a new partner pulled out when he discovered the venture wasn’t going to be profitable.
The public-private project was to be a residential-and-commercial complex called Woodland Block, on the north side of downtown DeLand east of Woodland Boulevard between East Rich Avenue and East Church Street.
The complex would have included condominiums, townhomes and two-story brownstone-like houses, as well as almost 4,000 square feet of retail space and a public parking lot.
Recently, developer White Challis Redevelopment Co. had partnered with Bob Fitzsimmons, owner of Gallery Homes of DeLand, to help move the project forward.
At the time, Fitzsimmons said he was excited and thought the project would be an asset to the city. But when he started looking deeper into the arrangement with the city, the project lost some appeal.
“Our marketing analysis led us to believe we weren’t going to get the kind of prices that we needed to make it profitable,” Fitzsimmons said recently. “I still think it’s a wonderful project, a fabulous project for the city of DeLand, but the way White Challis had it set up with the city didn’t work for us.”
Chris Challis, one of the redevelopment company’s partners, said he and partner Jack White understood why Fitzsimmons pulled out, but it was still a disappointment — after four years of hard work — that Woodland Block won’t be a reality.
Challis said he and White told the city all along that financing, especially as the deal was structured, was a challenge. After Fitzsimmons pulled out, the partners went back to the city.
“We all agreed we didn’t see a way to restructure the deal, so we agreed to shake hands and walk away,” Challis said.
The biggest difficulty in the deal was that the city was very interested in maintaining a large amount of parking on the 1.86-acre parcel, which didn’t leave enough room for a concentration of residences to make it profitable, Challis said.
“It was four years of a lot of work on our part, and we hate disappointing the folks in DeLand, who have mostly been supportive,” he said. “The city was a good partner, but we couldn’t get it to make sense for any of us. I wouldn’t change anything we’ve done, but we couldn’t make it work.”
Assistant City Manager Dale Arrington said she met with White and Challis in the first week of July, but the result was a mutual decision not to proceed.
White Challis Redevelopment Co. was chosen in 2012 to redevelop the property. The redevelopment agreement called for the city to donate the land in exchange for the developer constructing public parking within the block.
The agreement also called for the city to pay impact fees from the CRA budget, and to pay building-permit fees from the city's general fund, as well as obtaining grants to pay for the environmental assessments, as the land was declared a brownfield site.
Construction was to have been completed in three phases, beginning no later than September 2015, after White Challis received an extension.
The Downtown Community Redevelopment Agency — the City Commission and two people who live or work downtown — will meet Monday, July 21, to discuss a proposed termination agreement.
Arrington said it’s also possible the CRA also will talk about how to proceed with redeveloping the property.
“There are lots of ways we could proceed,” she said. “There was a lot of money going into this, but many other kinds of redevelopment projects could move up.”
Most important, she said, will be to figure out exactly what went wrong. Also, the CRA may want to consider another way of looking at the property.
“There are a lot of ways of looking at it that may make it easier for private companies to get involved,” Arrington said. “I have no idea if there’s any appetite for this or any appetite for looking at this again, or any idea what the CRA will want to do. It may be a good idea for us to catch our breaths.”
Arrington said she, also, is very disappointed the Woodland Block project didn’t work out.
“The plans were excellent, and we were excited about getting more residential units downtown,” she said. “It’s very sad they couldn’t get financing.”
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