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  NEW TOWNS
JANUARY/FEBRUARY 2008
 

Hometown: Baldwin Park, Orlando, Florida

It's already won award after award -- from the National Association of Home Builders, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Congress for the New Urbanism, among others. And now Baldwin Park, a traditional neighborhood development built on the site of the former Orlando Naval Training Center, has racked up one more distinction: a graceful transition of ownership. The new owners include many of the original team that helped turn the thousand-plus acres of the former Navy base into a desirable neighborhood two miles from downtown Orlando.


One of Baldwin Park's strengths is the variety of types of housing it offers.




Baldwin Park's new era began Nov. 16, 2007. That was the day the purchase of Baldwin Park Development Company by New Broad Street Investments LLC from the original developers, the Pritzker family of Chicago, was finalized.

"We see it as a natural transition for a community developer to move on when all or most of the land has been sold to residential and commercial builders," Penny Pritzker, president and chairman of Pritzker Realty Group, said in announcing the deal.

David Pace, the Celebration veteran who had been managing director of Baldwin Park Development when it had been part of the Pritzker portfolio, became CEO of New Broad Street Companies. He brought along John Classe, another longtime colleague, as his new chief operating officer, as well as a number of others from the original development team.

"It was a great way for the old ownership to exit gracefully," Classe said. "David [Pace] and his company bought the whole project -- not just the land. He formed this new company that has all the expertise of the original team that created the project. We're still here [continuing to oversee Baldwin Park], but we're also looking for new projects."

"Landowners and town planners from throughout the country have come to study our 'secrets,' and now they can partner with us to achieve their own goals of building similar great places," David Pace said as the purchase from the Pritzkers was finalized.

Pace, Classe and the others will help maintain the new urbanist vision of the neighborhood as properties begin to turn over within it. New buyers coming in may not have been exposed to that vision the way original owners were, Classe suggested, and so New Broad Street Realty will "tell that story to the second buyer."

"This team wants to finish what it started," Pace said.



The United States armed services had been a presence in Orlando since 1940, when the Army Air Corps established a training center there. And in December 1966 Under Secretary of the Navy Robert H. B. Baldwin announced that Orlando had been selected as the site of the nation's third naval training center. The Orlando Naval Training Center was commissioned July 1, 1968.

A quarter century later, though, the Base Realignment and Closure Commission ordered the facility shut down. It was decommissioned in December 1998.

The shutdown left Orlando with a thousand-acre "hole in the heart of the city," as one observer has written. Another way of looking at it, though, is that the Navy's departure left a prime tract of land ready to be redeveloped just a stone's throw, by Florida standards, from downtown.

Redevelopment has served to reweave the fabric of the city, too. The fenced-in Navy base, with only four gates, was a constant obstruction to the natural traffic flow of the larger community. But Baldwin Park, with its 32 entrances, reintegrates the tract into the street grid.

William Hudnut of the Urban Land Institute, who followed the Navy base undertaking in its early stages and praises it as "a wonderful redevelopment project," remembers the "mountains of concrete" generated as runways and other military infrastructure were torn up.

Indeed, in 2006 the U.S. Environmental Protect Agency honored Baldwin Park with one of its Phoenix Awards for Excellence in Environmental Redevelopment. Baldwin Park was recognized as the largest single-phase demolition and recycling project in history.



The residents of Baldwin Park, drawn overwhelmingly from the local area, rather than out of state, have tended to be either urbanites from elsewhere in Orlando looking to trade up or suburbanites looking to cut their commutes.

"Early on, we thought we'd get a lot of commuters. But initially, we were getting people who already 'got' urban living," said John Classe. These were people who didn't have to "wait and see." The commuter types came later, he added -- the ones who would normally live in gated communities.

Something that has helped Baldwin Park hold its own in a generally challenging real estate market is its wide range of "residential opportunities," by different housing styles -- 15 of them, such as cottages and bungalows as well as "manor homes" and live-work models that include space for tenants. Prices for 2006-2007 were higher than during the boom year of 2004, Classe noted in passing.

Baldwin Park likewise offers a range of options for office space. Some businesses and professionals prefer, for reasons of business identity or branding, to own their own building instead of renting offices in a larger building.

To meet that need, Baldwin Park offers "neighborhood business districts." They have traditional architecture -- "they look like houses," Classe said, and they have attracted a broad range of small business. He stresses that it's good new urbanism to build this way -- and good business, too. "We didn't do that to be cute; we did it because it made us more money."



As an ecosystem, an abandoned military base generally has no place to go but up. So it was at the Orlando NTC. Part of the redevelopment of the site has been reestablishing the original ecology. The developers worked with Florida Audubon to recreate the natural habitat of the area, reintroducing native grasses and other species.

The developers decided to preserve the shoreline around the community's two lakes as parkland, instead of selling it as waterfront property, and to focus on passive recreation around the lakes, so that people are not "pestered with jet-skis," Classe said. Another bonus: construction of a rookery on an island in one of the lakes, to provide raccoon-free nesting habitat for local birds.



The developers' experience in wooing the Publix supermarket chain into Baldwin Park illustrates, in part, the challenges of enticing business into traditional neighborhood developments -- and the advantages of infill versus greenfield projects.

Baldwin Park's close-in location meant it had 100,000 people within 3 miles. That meant "our retailers didn't need to live off the residents," Classe noted, and that made it easier. Besides, Publix also had a store a mile away, an older property ready for renovation -- or closure.

The developers managed to convince Publix to "bury themselves," to put the new store inside Baldwin Park, where it would be more integral to the neighborhood albeit less visible to passing traffic outside. As a trade-off, the developers held off construction around the supermarket for a couple of years to give it more visibility than it would ultimately have.

"It was a sacrifice on our part," according to Classe. The developers had to keep thinking about "who needed whom" at that point. A store that would generate daily-needs traffic was worth sacrificing for. The developers reasoned that two years would be enough time to let the store connect with its natural customer base. After all, Classe pointed out, if it's your neighborhood grocery store, "You only need to get there once."

The 46,000-square-foot store is now one of the busiest Publix outlets in central Florida.

Ruth Walker is a longtime journalist and writer with an interest in urban issues. She is based in Boston. Contact her at ruthwalker@earthlink.net.


SIDEBAR



Location: Orlando, Fla.
Size: 1,100 acres
Developer: Baldwin Park Development Company (Pritzker Realty Group)
Designer: A. Nelessen Associates
Groundbreaking: 2001 (infrastructure)
Percent complete: Infrastructure: 98%; residential: 48%
Population: Approximately 5,000; 10,000 expected at build-out
Apartment rental: From $835
Single-family: From mid $200s to over $2 million
Condominiums: +/- $200,000 to $600+



Baldwin Park is located just west of S.R. 436 and just north of S.R. 50 (Colonial Drive). The Baldwin Park Sales Center is located at the corner of Bennett and Maguire, 1/8-mile East of Orlando Fashion Square. For more information, call the Baldwin Park Sales Center at 407.206.3300 or visit http://www.baldwinparkfl.com/web/.