10 years later, vacant land is all that remains of Parramore Village's rebirth
Orlando Sentinel (FL), 2014-04-28
April 28 --Nearly 100 people lived in Parramore Village before City Hall forced them to move and razed their homes -- the beginning, they were told, of the neighborhood's rebirth.
Orlando taxpayers spent $1.3 million to relocate the residents, some of whom had lived there 35 years, and to bulldoze their former homes.
City officials were in a hurry to tear down Parramore Village and clear the way for a new residential community.
More than 10 years later, the property remains a vacant lot, surrounded by a chain-link fence that's falling down, and hopeful-but-outdated signs still promising new homes that aren't coming.
It's just one of many lofty plans for Orlando's most troubled neighborhood that have not materialized.
"I'm not sure we were as aggressive with making this happen as we were with making other things happen," said Daisy Lynum , the city commissioner for Parramore, where the city has built the $487 million Amway Center and will soon break ground on an $84 million soccer stadium, all while Parramore Village has sat barren a few blocks north.
Lynum considers the failed plan for Parramore Village one of "the most devastating" results of her 16 years on the City Council , but she's still hopeful. Today, Lynum and her fellow commissioners are expected to approve agreements that will take the Parramore Village land back from the developer they gave it to years ago.
"I'm in seventh heaven that there's another opportunity to develop that land," Lynum said.
City Hall is going to try again.
The Parramore Village plan was among several efforts by the city to enlist private-sector partners to redevelop parts of Parramore.
Federal-Otey Place , a tract that the city sold at a deep discount to a developer who planned to sell modular homes for as much as $350,000 , hasn't happened.
Neither has the nonprofit Black Business Investment Fund's proposal for a mixed-use development with condos, offices and retail.
And after a single model home was built, the Orlando Housing Authority's plan to build and sell dozens of houses at Carver Park has stalled out.
The redevelopment of Parramore Village was launched while former Mayor Glenda Hood was running the city, but Buddy Dyer embraced it when he was elected in 2003.
On the campaign trail, Dyer tied his reputation to Parramore's future, saying that if he hadn't revitalized that community in his first five years, his time as mayor should be judged a failure.
Less than a month after taking office, he accelerated the city's efforts to buy the homes in Parramore Village , and he would later seek City Council's approval to go to court to force any holdouts to sell their property to the city.
"We've been working with folks in Parramore Village for more than a year," Dyer said at the time. "It's time to move forward with razing these buildings."
Parramore Village was built in the mid-1960s, and many of its residents raised their families there. The city offered owners between $10,000 and $24,000 per home, as well as moving expenses and help with rent or mortgages wherever they ended up.
Why tear it down?
City officials said the rows of pastel-colored buildings had fallen into disrepair and were infested with termites and rats. And, like much of Parramore, the multifamily development was built at a time when housing was segregated.
The city has since promoted a newer model that mixes residents of different income levels together.
The 5 acres was transferred to Nu Beginnings Parramore Village Development , a company with a plan to change the name to Wells Landing and build more than 70 single-family homes and town houses. One-quarter of the homes were to be sold as affordable housing, the rest at market rate.
The land was essentially free to the developer -- the company paid the city only $10 -- though the city held a mortgage that would allow it to retake the property through foreclosure if it failed. The city also would retain control over how it would be developed and who could buy the homes.
But the city lagged in finding a developer, and before the first dollop of concrete was poured, the housing crisis hit.
The lender, a consortium of banks called Florida Community Partners , cut off financing and sued to foreclose. Developer Hanton Walters of Nu Beginnings countersued for wrongly cutting off funding.
Now, after a legal battle that dragged on for four years, they've settled. The City Council is expected to approve a separate settlement today that returns the land to the city.
Attorney Walter Ketcham , who represents Walters, said the developer's intentions were good.
"He spent a lot of money on the soft costs of developing the property, and the market went bad and things didn't work out," Ketcham said. " Mr. Walters wanted to make sure the city got the property back, so we've worked it out so it returns to the city free and clear to do with it what they will."
Parramore remains a priority for Dyer, who recently launched an effort to engage residents to help with a new plan to guide redevelopment in the community.
Laurie Botts , the city's real estate manager, said there are no immediate plans to do anything with the vacant lot that used to be Parramore Village.
"I think we'll hold onto it for a little while until we can develop some housing plans again," she said.
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