AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
ORLANDO, Fla. _ When the federal government ordered the Orlando Naval Training Center closed in 1993, dozens of pages of fine print laid out a pecking order of who could lay claim to the valuable property.
Other branches of the military, state and local public agencies and the homeless were first in line. Billionaire developers were not on the list.
But eight years later, one of the nation's wealthiest families owns the 1,093-acre base in Orlando. And they got it for next to nothing, while the city of Orlando lost a chance to use the base for a broader public benefit. Aided by low-interest loans and other incentives quietly doled out by the city, the developers even control a small government created to help them build an upscale housing enclave there.
A partnership controlled by the Pritzkers of Chicago _ owners of the posh Hyatt hotel chain _ two years ago paid just $7.6 million to secure title to nearly two square miles of Central Florida's choicest land in a complex series of deals orchestrated with the city. The $6,900 an acre they paid for the base would have been a good price for land in rural Lake County, let alone in downtown Orlando.
An Orlando Sentinel investigation of the behind-the-scenes deal-making since that time shows that the Pritzkers have been able to parlay a total $19 million investment into a real-estate gold mine now worth at least $130 million. They have succeeded, in large part, because:
They had help from two Orlando mayors, past and present. Mayor Glenda Hood pressed passionately for development of the defunct complex as part of her administration's legacy. Her predecessor, ex-Mayor Bill Frederick, was briefly a Pritzker business partner in a key phase of the family's drive to buy the base.
Hood and her staff treated public ownership of the base as if it were a liability, never giving serious consideration to other options beyond unloading it quickly and cheaply for a private housing and commercial development. The city owned the so-called NTC for less than a day. Officials were so eager to close the deal with the Pritzkers that they fashioned an unprecedented, multimillion-dollar package of loans and other breaks that included exempting the developers from normal planning reviews. More clogged roads may be the future price Orlando pays.
The city approved a "community development district" government for the Pritzkers, enabling them to issue $76 million in tax-free bonds and legally steer as much as a third of the proceeds to their own company. Future homeowners will repay much of that debt with assessments on their property stretched over three decades. What residents will get for that portion of the bond money are otherwise unmarketable scraps of raw land slated for such uses as drainage areas and roads. The price commanded by the Pritzkers was about $91,000 an acre. That's 13 times what they paid per acre just two years earlier.
In its drive to sign an agreement with the Pritzkers, the city secured little in return for the general public beyond land for schools and the increased tax revenue _ $1.27 million a year _ that would come with any large new development. Homes in what is billed as "a traditional Orlando neighborhood" will start at $150,000 for a condo _ well out of the range of most residents _ and range beyond $1 million. The Orlando area's median home price is $125,000.
The fruits of the city's arrangement with the Pritzkers soon will be on display as the razed base is transformed into Baldwin Park, a self-contained village of houses, apartments, shops and offices that already has attracted a list of 2,000 potential homeowners. The first of about 8,000 residents should begin moving in late next year.
But anyone who doesn't live or work in Baldwin Park may have few compelling reasons to go there beyond some shops, restaurants, offices and a modest network of parks.
Rollins College business Professor Barry Render said the city's handling of the …