Orange County Public Schools put its 100-acre Hungerford Prep site in Eatonville up for bid, but received zero proposals from developers. The deadline, which was pushed from March to July because of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, was 2 p.m. on Tuesday. A spokeswoman for OCPS, Lauren Roth, confirmed no bids were received.
“It’s disappointing,” she said in an email. “OCPS staff is evaluating the next steps.” The Orange County School Board and Eatonville requested proposals for the acquisition and redevelopment of 94 acres, where the former Robert Hungerford Preparatory School once operated before closing in 2009. Known as the Wymore Road/Hungerford site, the property consists of the largest single-owner parcels along the I-4 corridor between Sand Lake Road in Orange County and Lake Mary Boulevard in Seminole County.
About a year ago, Woody Rodriguez, the board’s former attorney, told GrowthSpotter the site had been receiving a high amount of interest from developers. At the time, the proposal garnered inquiries from companies tied to Daryl Carter, president of Maury L. Carter & Associates, Essian Construction & Development and Tavistock Development Company.
Kyle Sanders of Sovereign Land Company attended the pre-bid conference, along with Chuck Whittall of Unicorp National Developments, Gregory Clark president of Orlando-based LOMA Land Company and executives with Carter, an Atlanta-based real estate firm that co-developed the CNL II mixed-use project in downtown Orlando.
“It seemed like it all happened fast,” Sanders said. “[The school board] delayed the Request For Proposal when coronavirus first began shutting down Florida, then all of sudden the property went back on the market.” Sanders said Sovereign Land Co. was closing on a deal around the same time of the most recent deadline. “I think [OCPS] should call us up and see if we can make another deal,” he said. “I don’t why they keep going through the trouble of putting it up for bid, when we can get a contract in place within a couple of weeks.” Developers were asked to put together a thoughtful proposal that considered the history of Eatonville, the oldest black-incorporated municipality in America, dating back to 1887.
As stated in the RFP, the land use plan envisioned by the Town included up to 400 residential units, 800,000 square feet of office space and 150,000 square feet of retail space. “We thought the city criteria expectations were beyond realistic, there were too many challenges,” Whittall told GrowthSpotter. “At the end of the day, they’re not the ones that need to make the economics work.”
As defined in the Purchase and Sale Agreement by and between OCPS and Eatonville, OCPS would sell the property to the town for $10 million. The contract required the RFP process to find a contract purchaser to buy the property from the town simultaneously. A spokesperson for Carter said the company had to revisit the proposal and view it through a lens that addresses the current economic disruption caused by the global pandemic. “We did not believe it would be responsible for our team to respond to the RFP as written or to submit our proposed master plan and provide a firm acquisition price given the uncertainty in the markets.” Carter did, however, submit an official letter of interest to OCPS ahead of the RFP response deadline.
The spokesperson said the letter of interest outlined multiple approaches to developing the property that the company felt comfortable proposing in the current environment.
“It would allow Carter to work with both OCPS and the historic town of Eatonville to responsibly develop the site,” the company said in a written statement. Representatives for Eatonville were not immediately available to comment. It wasn’t the first time the land has been put out to bid by OCPS. In 2017, a purchase offer and planned redevelopment of the property from UP Development won favorable approval by the city and school board officials, but the company never closed on the land. The deal with UP Development was valued at about $20 million. Appraisals received by the town last year from Clayton, Roper & Marshall, Inc. and Cushman & Wakefield value the total costs of the properties at nearly $24 million. “I don’t think the property is worth that today,” Whittall said. “Last year, when the market was strong it probably could have transacted, but in today’s environment it’s a difficult ask.”