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Ken Robinson, president and CEO of Dr. Phillips Charities, walked out of Council Chambers at Orlando City Hall with a huge smile on his face Monday, Dec. 11, 2017. He turned to Dr. Phillips Charities Chairman of the Board Jim Ferber and said, “Well, we better get to work.”
In fact, Robinson, Ferber, other Dr. Phillips board members, and a slew of consultants, land use experts, architects, branding professionals, and community advocates, had been hard at work for two years to get to that moment.
The Orlando City Council had just unanimously approved two measures: First was the formation of a public/private partnership with Dr. Phillips Inc. to improve the infrastructure in College Park’s northwest quadrant to support one of the largest new development projects in the city. Second, the council passed a motion to accept a gift from Dr. Phillips of 100-plus acres of land at John Young Parkway and Princeton Street to be developed into Orlando’s newest regional park.
The passage of these measures was key to the forward progress of The Packing District and the park, linked developments covering 202 acres in College Park. Mayor Buddy Dyer said this marked a day Orlando would look back on with pride.
“I was here for the transformation of a cow pasture into a medical city [Lake Nona Medical City near Orlando International Airport]. We’ll look back on this day as having the same significance. It is transformational for the northwest quadrant of our city,” Mayor Dyer said.
College Park Community Paper broke the story online about the projects in early December. New details are emerging for the mixed-use development and the park. Work will begin immediately and progress over the next 10 to 15 years, though the park is expected to be complete in early 2020.
Anchored by the Orlando Tennis Center being relocated from its current Livingston Street location, the park will include walking trails, bike trails, a lake, green space, and an adjacent 13-acre parcel to be developed by Dr. Phillips with retail and residential space. A pavilion and an urban farm are “aspirational” aspects of the plan, according to Robinson, who said, “We are in conversation with some great community partners” for the 40 acres educational farm on the southern tip of the park, mentioning John Rivers and his 4R Foundation.
The primary entrance to the yet-to-be-named park will be at a new roundabout located at Princeton Street and Texas Avenue. Another access point will be an extension of New Hampshire Street across Orange Blossom Trail into the park.
At the nearby intersection of Princeton and OBT, and linked to the park by trails and newly refurbished streets, Dr. Phillips is developing The Packing District on 84 acres it has owned since the 1930s. “Preserve and Adapt” is the goal of the project as stated in the District Vision graphic discussed at the city council meeting.
The former Dr. Phillips citrus packing plant, the Great Southern Box Company built in the 1930s, will likely be the first structure to go into rehab. Robinson said Dr. Phillips Inc. will focus on construction “from the east side of the area to the west.”
The 20,000-square-foot blue building was most recently the Habitat for Humanity center on the east side of OBT. Sketches show the newly renovated building as having open sides leading to eateries, retail shops, public spaces, and extensive landscaping and outdoor areas with tables under umbrellas for guests to gather.
Dr. Phillips once operated a unique, round, roadside fruit stand on the northwest corner of the intersection that the developers are hoping to recreate into a new local gathering spot like a coffee shop.
The total investment by Dr. Phillips Inc. in The Packing District alone is expected to reach a half billion dollars in the next 15 years. Dr. Phillips will also invest $12 million to $14 million for transportation and infrastructure improvements in the area — including collaborating with the city to upgrade the current storm water system, improving water quality to the Lake Lawne/Wekiva Basin, according to plan documents.
Robinson said: “The unique prospect of connecting The Packing District with a large urban park presented us with a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work with the city to establish a regional park just a few miles from the downtown urban core and a natural destination to relocate the historic tennis center. At the same time, the community told us they wanted more active uses including biking, walking, and running trails. This park will become a destination providing those active uses and even serving as a catalyst for western expansion of the urban trail.”
The Packing District name pays homage to the site’s historic use. Howard Phillips initially developed the area as Orlando’s first industrial park centered on the orange juice processing facilities the family company owned in the area. The Phillips family had special oversized red bricks manufactured in Tennessee to use in construction, and Dr. Phillips Inc. hopes to retain many of the existing red brick buildings and adapt them for new use, according to Robinson.
At his city council presentation, Robinson said that Dr. Phillips Charities has been supporting Central Florida for 100 years. Dr. Phillips Charities is the overarching branding entity that covers Dr. Phillips Inc, which holds the real estate, and Dr. Phillips Foundation, which gives the grants. “One hundred percent of what we touch is nonprofit,” he said, mentioning that in the coming year, Dr. Phillips will likely reach the milestone of having donated $200 million in grants to area nonprofits.
Real estate holdings are the largest part of the Dr. Phillips investment portfolio, “providing us a stable return to allow us to give back within the community. We have a legacy of responsible development,” Robinson said.
Community input included questions about the homeless camp that has long been located in the woods near John Young Parkway as well as increased traffic congestion.
During the city council meeting, Commissioner Robert Stuart, whose District 3 encompasses the new development, said about Dr. Phillips, “We appreciate your work, your commitment, and that you listen to the community,” noting that the process for development will be transparent and inclusive of resident input going forward. He also said that Central Florida has a comprehensive program addressing homelessness and the few homeless people who were once in the vicinity had been relocated to existing facilities.
Online postings and resident comments echo the sentiment that having Dr. Phillips behind the project bodes well for the city.
City Commissioner Jim Gray said: “We have to partner with a sponsor with staying power. We’re extremely fortunate to partner with Dr. Phillips. We know they will be here for the long run.”
Chip Webb, a principal of Tramell Webb Partners and a participant in a recent community focus group about The Packing District and the park, said: “Only Dr. Phillips can pull this off. Nobody else would come in and buy that property and donate it to the city for a park. We all know what it could be if it weren’t for [Dr. Phillips] developing this.”
For more detailed information and additional renderings of the new city park and The Packing District, see the College Park Community Paper website at collegeparkpaper.com.