The controversial I-4 Automall project is moving forward, albeit slowly, but its backers are also keeping their options open with regard to the 53-acre site that straddles the boundary between DeLand and Lake Helen.
Attorney Rob Doan of Cobb Cole, who represents Automall developer Brendan Hurley of DeLand Chrysler Jeep Dodge Ram, said I-4 Automall LLC is waiting for the Orange Camp Road widening project to begin before breaking any ground.
“We have no utilities at the site,” Doan said. “The utilities dead-end right at the entrance where Victoria Gardens and Victoria Commons connect to Orange Camp Road — that’s the end of the water and sewer mains.”
Since the deal negotiated among Lake Helen, DeLand and the Automall’s backers put 100 percent of the expense of extending utility lines on the Automall’s shoulders, Doan said rather than pay to have the road torn up just to have the lines extended, I-4 Automall LLC opted to wait for the Orange Camp Road widening to tear it up.
Crews have recently begun work on the long-awaited road project, which will see Orange Camp Road widened to four lanes between Interstate 4 and Martin Luther King Jr. Beltway, along with intersection improvements at the Beltway and Orange Camp Road.
“Obviously, the pandemic has had an impact on our entire economy, including planning and commencement of construction,” Doan said. “The biggest delay to date has been waiting on the Orange Camp widening project to start.”
In 2019, plans were floated to downsize the Automall portion of the development, which also includes provisions for general commercial development along Orange Camp Road.
The proposed super-dealership is legally allowed to build up to 11 “dealership modules” of up to 80 feet in height, originally with the idea that inventory would be stored in the upper floors of a module, while a traditional showroom would occupy the ground floor.
The plans were later changed to allow for a central inventory storage facility on the site.
The general layout of the site would have general-commercial uses, including a possible grocery store and gas station, on the western (DeLand) side of the site. The auto-sales uses would be constructed in the eastern portion of the site, which is part of Lake Helen.
“Now that work is beginning, there is considerable interest from end users for the property, including retailers, professional offices, a convenience store with gas, restaurants and the like,” Doan said. “We expect to be making announcements about commencement of development as early as the early months of 2021.”
Still, a “For Sale” sign has appeared on the purported Automall site, raising questions in residents’ minds as to the future of the project.
Doan said while plans for the Automall as a super-dealership remain intact, the project’s backers are open to other uses for the site, such as a “master developer” purchasing the site to make it into a mixed-use development.
The property is listed with real estate firm Avison Young, and a listing for the 53-acre site can be seen on commercial real estate listing site Loopnet, with no price specified.
“Possible property usage capability includes; up to 80-foot tall buildings, 500,000± square feet under [air conditioning] on [the] west side of [the] property, mixed retail on Orange Camp Road, and hotel on [the] west side,” part of the listing’s description reads. “This offering presents developers with an incredible opportunity to acquire an irreplaceable asset in one of Central Florida’s strongest submarkets with frontage and direct access from Interstate 4.”
The listing also shows a conceptual plan for the property as a mixed-use residential and commercial development.
“From a very technical standpoint, the whole property is for sale, but that does not necessarily mean the plans have changed,” Doan said. “There’s a million ways to put together a development deal with the overall developer, and the [governmental] approvals it was granted [for the Automall uses] are still in place.”
Any change to the Automall’s plan, which calls for auto sales and some general commercial uses on the site, would have to come before the two cities’ planning boards and city commissions for approval.
Adding residential units, for example, would require changing the planned-development agreement — a process that would involve additional public hearings.