The extra green space on the site where Florida Hospital Waterman once stood is nice, city leaders admit.
But now, with the economy percolating again, Eustis officials have decided it’s time to make a concerted effort with the property’s owners to sell the 4.8 acres for commercial and residential development to boost the city’s tax roll and bring more people downtown.
Waterman’s move to Tavares in 2003 and the old hospital’s demolition left a hole downtown that has been difficult to fill. Some of the remaining vacant space has been put to use including for carnival rides during the Eustis GeorgeFest celebration, but officials envision as many as 104 housing units along with retail, office and commercial space in three city blocks dubbed as “a developer’s dream locale.”
“We see it as a real opportunity, and we’re hoping to get the word out to someone who also sees it as an opportunity,” Tom Carrino, the city’s economic-development director, said Tuesday as the city began to aggressively pitch the site to developers for $2.5 million.
Eustis is joining forces with the two private ownership groups, Lake Eustis Properties and Eustis Partners, to market the property. The city is offering to assist a deal with a “creative incentive package” that could include sweeteners such as impact-fee credits and a pledge to help with funding for a parking facility to serve the site.
That could either be surface parking or a parking garage, depending on the scope of any project approved for development, officials said.
The city also could offer what is called tax-increment financing, in which extra taxes generated from within a community redevelopment area that includes downtown are used for improvements in the area rather than going into the general fund.
That’s enticing because county taxes — in addition to city taxes — also are plowed back into the city redevelopment area, City Manager Ron Neibert said.
Eustis attorney Frank Gaylord, registered agent for the property owners, said the time is finally right for redevelopment of the site.
“Now that we’ve got the city’s support and encouragement, we’re just tickled to death,” he said. “We probably are the only downtown area in Central Florida that has available land that can be used for something like this.…It’s just waiting for somebody to just come in and do it.”
Part of the hospital campus was sold and now houses a three-story building with businesses and apartments. The other parcels have gone unsold, complicated by years of decline after the 2008 global economic collapse. Two of the blocks contain grassy areas and the third is a surface parking lot.
City officials envision a new chapter on the site, which began as a 164-room luxury resort, the Fountain Inn built in 1922 by Frank Waterman, president of the Waterman Fountain Pen Co. In 1938, the top floor became Waterman Medical Center and the hospital expanded over the years.
“When we lost the hospital…it really was a blow to our downtown businesses,” Mayor Michael Holland said.
But things are looking up, he said. He ticked off amenities within walking distance including restaurants, a live theater, a library, historical and art museums as well as Ferran Park and its new splash pad.
For people who might prefer to leave the Waterman site as green space, Holland said, “We need to understand that property is not owned by the city of Eustis.”
And word is starting to spread about the site’s potential, Carrino said.
“We’ve already gotten some bonafide interest,” he said.
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