The long-awaited return of a once thriving area of Port Orange continues to build momentum.
Riverwalk Park, at 3459 S. Ridgewood Ave., has been the subject of improvements since the early 1990s. In March, Fysh Bar and Grill broke ground on what will be the largest restaurant in Volusia County. It will have neighbors.
The City of Port Orange expects to receive plans early next month from six developers interested in creating a destination location that Councilman Scott Stiltner termed an opportunity like no other in the entire area.
That opportunity has also been spotted by the City of South Daytona, which is working on a Halifax River project about a half mile north of Riverwalk.
The Klotz Group of Cos. of Jacksonville plans to develop the Halifax Riverfront Residences & Marina, an $85 million mixed-use multifamily and marina project in South Daytona. It will have 330 residential units, more than 15,000 square feet of commercial space, 145 boat slips, dockside restaurants and a tiki bar with groundbreaking in 2022.
The two cities have good intentions to turn around that section of Ridgewood Avenue along the river and provide a destination for residents and out-of-towners alike. However, past attempts have failed.
For Port Orange’s sake, the feel in the room at a Nov. 9 special City Council Meeting was this time it is for real. Councilman Chase Tramont, recovered after a hard battle with Covid, underscored the point, “This would be a very poor time to stumble.”
Colliers International, a commercial real estate agency, was hired by Port Orange to help ensure there will be no stumbling this time. Rather than the city coming up with a plan, then finding a developer to fit the plan, the city came up with a vision and had Collier International find developers willing to turn that vision into a plan. This approach led to six companies submitting bids for the City Council to review.
The firms are BLD Group, Bristol Development Group, Cornerstone Group, Falcon Group, Harbour Retail Partners and Landmark Cos. Each one has experience building in Florida. The bids range between $6.5 and $8 million. The winning bid gets a 10-acre property.
It might not end there, Bob’s Bike Shop, Dunkin Donuts and the Port Orange Mower Center have been included in some developer’s preliminary plans. Those businesses would have to be bought out. Whether those businesses would be willing to sell was not discussed at the meeting.
It is not necessarily the highest bidder that will be chosen as the bids are only separated by $1.5 million. It is likely the council will focus equally, if not more so, on which developer adheres closest to the city’s vision combined with a reputation of delivering what they promise in a timely fashion.
The Port Orange Community Redevelopment Agency that focuses on the renewal of Riverwalk Park, the causeway, Dunlawton Avenue, Down Under and Ridgewood Avenue was created in 1998. Fast forward to today and that area has not contributed its fair share to the tax rolls, but execution of this deal would be a panacea.
Mayor Don Burnette, speaking in regard to the money a development agreement would bring in, said, “We have $4.1 million in debt in that CRA, you can make that go away.”
Beyond the singular moment of closing a deal and the money it will bring, the mayor is looking forward to the taxes Riverwalk Park, the other properties within the CRA and the River District as a whole, are expected to generate. Lamenting that some of the properties have not contributed to the tax rolls in decades, the mayor said, “Those properties have done nothing except sit there and we've seen no revenue from it, and we've had debt.”
In the meeting, city officials and Colliers International staff came back to the same topic, the Port Orange vision. The city envisions access to the river for all citizens no matter what gets built. City Manager Wayne Clark said, “We have people (the developer’s representatives) who very clearly were told the waterfront has to have a public component.”
The public access to the Halifax River could possibly be in the form of a walking trail.
Port Orange’s vision is similar to the plan in place for South Daytona. Meaning that Port Orange residents can expect some balance between civic use, entertainment, a hotel, a marina, offices, retail and residential. The details of the six bids are coming in December.
Looking forward, Fysh Bar and Grill is expected to open by March 2022. That is also the date Port Orange City Council expects the winning bidder’s Riverwalk Park development agreement to be submitted to them for review and approval.