The April 2016 issue of Southeast Real Estate Business included an article about the multifamily and commercial real estate markets in Winter Haven. The piece, authored by real estate strategist Jim Cooper, demonstrates the growth and expansion opportunities in this area. Read below for the full story.

New Commercial Projects, I-4 Corridor Growth Transforming Winter Haven

BY: Jim Cooper, Real Estate Strategist

Located to the west of Orlando, the city of Winter Haven is fulfilling the recent projections for the growth of the I-4 corridor between the Orlando and Tampa metro areas.  Known as the “City of 100 Lakes,” Winter Haven has more than 50 miles of lakefront within its city limits and is undergoing a rapid transformation, proving the I-4 pundits correct.

Recent developments have attracted attention to the city and sparked new multifamily and commercial projects. These attractions include the completion of the CSX intermodal terminal, the leader for an 8.5 million-square-foot distribution center development as well as the opening of the newest member of the Florida University system, Florida Polytechnic, which focuses on STEM education and was designed by the noted architect Santiago Calatrava. Merlin Entertainment has also continued expansion of its Legoland resort (located within the city’s limits). Additionally, Inland Fiber and Data Park, a complex comprised of five city blocks, five buildings and more than a quarter-of-a-million square feet, has undergone a 200,000-square-foot expansion  in the city’s downtown area, at the nexus of all major fiber optic network providers in Florida.

These powerful components have attracted national residential developers to capitalize on Winter Haven’s reasonable land prices and projected 3 to 5 percent population growth. Among the latest multifamily projects, Pinnacle Housing Group recently completed development of a 70-unit, mid-rise apartment complex, which was completely rented in its opening week. Jim Lentz, developer of the 11,000-acre Harmony, 10 miles south of Orlando in Kissimmee, has also recently acquired 300 acres in Winter Haven to develop up to 1,500 units of mixed, market rate housing and resort lodging.  The possibility of developing market rate housing at 15 to 20 percent less than comparable housing in Tampa and Orlando, and satisfying the needs of a bedroom community as well as providing an urbanist lifestyle, is drawing great interest to the city.

One of Winter Haven’s newest multifamily developments is RainGarden Apartments. This AIA award winning nine-unit townhouse apartment project, designed by noted Miami architect Max Strang, is now fully occupied with rents in the $1.25 per square foot range. A similar apartment complex, in the contiguous downtown block, is currently in the pre-development phase with the expectation of achieving similar rental rates. Additionally, Six/Ten LLC, which owns approximately 400,000 square feet of mixed use assets in Winter Haven, has recently joint ventured with 100 Lakes Homes, LLC, an active local residential development group, to redevelop the 50-unit apartment complex Lake Shore Club, with plans to add an additional 25 units in the near future. Six/Ten has also contracted to acquire a downtown site and is reviewing development options for a 60 to 70-unit midrise apartment building.

Adding to this burst of new multifamily activity, the recent redevelopment of the city’s 1920s era downtown region has brought retail, banking and new office tenants who appreciate the vibrant atmosphere and walkable urban community. Businesses and entrepreneurs are taking notice of this shift and taking advantage of the increased foot traffic downtown. One example involves a once-dilapidated city block containing a 5,700-square-foot historic, industrial building that is being transformed to house Winter Haven’s first craft beer brewery.

This activity downtown has encouraged developer Tom Wolf Co, LLC to contract to acquire the 27,000-square-foot BB&T Bank building, located on 2.5 acres on Winter Haven’s Third Street, with plans to retrofit and reposition the space for professional offices.  On Central Avenue, another 8,000-square-foot building has recently been leased to Polk County’s largest law firm and is currently being retrofitted.  Activity of this sort has seen downtown office market rental rates increase during the past few years, approximately 25 percent reaching $18 NNN.

Further activity, including the announcement of a $55 million addition to Baycare’s Winter Haven hospital complex and continued growth of the Bond and Gessler Clinics, as well as the improving office occupancy, illustrates the need for quality market rate housing and is encouraging due diligence by outside developers.

The city’s growth can also be attributed to the advocacy efforts of Winter Haven City management, a very active local Economic Development Council, the Greater Winter Haven Chamber of Commerce and the leadership of Winter Haven Main Street. These groups are just a few of the numerous resources in place who have assisted and encouraged downtown development.

No longer a quiet 9 to 5 city, the vibrancy of a multitude of quality restaurants, fun and entertaining music venues and cultural draws, such as The Derry Down (Gram Parson’s original music club) and Theatre Winter Haven, have made Winter Haven an evening destination resulting in greater interest for downtown living and real estate opportunities.

About the author:

Jim Cooper has more than 50 years of real estate experience and has developed, owned and managed in excess of 10 million square feet of properties.