Some prime real estate in the tourist district is about to go to auction next month


  • Photo by Holly V. Kapherr

The tourist district is about to expand when some major plots go up for auction next month. Altogether 450 acres near the Orange County Convention Center will go up for auction on Nov. 18.

A California-based real estate company, Colony Capital, is expected to purchase the entire acreage after working with the current owner; Georgia based developer Stan Thomas, to settle its $285 million foreclosure lawsuit.

Thomas bought the property in 2003 from Universal, who at one time had planned an expansion on the convention center area property. Thomas’s partner, Marc Watson, had worked for Universal just a few years before the land deal with the local resort. Plans floated for the property over the years have ranged from a baseball stadium to basketball arena, an alternative to the new Amway Center in downtown. At the time of the purchase, there was even speculation of a Christian based attraction that would compete against The Holy Land Experience. Watson confirmed to the Orlando Sentinel in 2012 that he had “dissociated” himself from Thomas in 2008, though details were not provided. 

By 2009, Stan Thomas had been hit with the recession hard with many of his projects; including a 7-star hotel and Atlanta’s Prospect Park (which was later lost in foreclosure). Fourth Quarter Properties, which owns most of the Universal Blvd acreage, was among a number of businesses that Thomas owned which filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in 2010.

By 2012, the land, at that time a whopping 2,200 acres, had racked up $1.7 Million in unpaid property taxes with Thomas requesting the county to approve new plans even as the property entered into foreclosure. The land has been a source of strife between the City of Orlando and Orange County as both looked to benefit from it. Issues also arose when Thomas placed cattle on the tourist district land to claim an agricultural tax break, a loophole the Orange County Tax Collector unsuccessfully attempted to close.

Parts of the land have been sold off over the years, including one plot which will become the TopGolf Orlando location. The 450 acres going up for auction next month will be one of the last remaining large sections owned by companies affiliated with Thomas.

While Colony will be the likely owner after next month’s auction, due to its ownership of the $285 million in debt on the property, other investors can bid on it. Some have speculated that Universal, which now has a new parent, may be once again interested in the property. Since selling the property, Universal has purchased the Wet ‘n Wild property nearby. Unicorp, owner of the Orlando Eye-anchored I-Drive 360 complex, has expressed interest in other property Thomas owns and is a likely interested party regarding all 450 acres now going up for auction.

The 450 acres isn’t all connected due to the random plots being sold over the years. The county also owns a ROW that cuts through the property that will eventually be used to expand Kirkman Road around Lockheed Property linking Kirkman to Universal Blvd and then onto Destination Parkway. This would provide a major new road network connected to I-Drive and the Convention Center (which has its own plans for the property on Destination Parkway).

Another major snag in developing the property is the environmental cleanup needed on the land, which served as a rocket launch test facility for Lockheed Martin in the early days of Florida’s space program. The land, which sits next the protected Shingle Creek (the headwaters of the Florida Everglades), is currently in the process of remediation though it’s unclear how that would affect any development there on.

No matter who purchases the property it’s expected to be developed very quickly as interest in the district has increased in recent years. 

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