ORLANDO-Florida may be saddled with unknowns in the areas ofproperty insurance, taxes and hometown democracy–the amendment thatcalls for all citizens to vote for any change to the comprehensiveland-use plan. But Central Florida area is ripe for the commercialreal estate industry, according to experts at the RealShare CentralFlorida conference, held at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando.

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More than 300 commercial practitioners attended the RealShareCentral Florida conference. The RealShare Series is produced byReal Estate Media, publisher of GlobeSt.com, Real EstateForum and Real Estate Florida.From the popularity andsuccess of mixed-use development and continued population growth tothe green building movement and low unemployment rates, commercialopportunities flourish. “The market will rise slowly, and we're notin as dire a situation as some have predicted,” said Sean Snaith,director of the Institute of Economic Competitiveness at theUniversity of Central Florida in Orlando. “Central Florida has jobgrowth and personal income growth,” he says.

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In addition, Snaith says that net population will continue togrow, with Orlando being the top area in the state for job growthby 2010. “It's amazing the number of bioscience companies we'reseeing move to Florida,” says Larry Richey, senior managingdirector, Cushman & Wakefield, Orlando and Tampa.

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With job and population growth come opportunity. “We're seeing amajor trend right now with infill redevelopment opportunities inthe inner cores,” said Bill Moss, senior managing director of CBRichard Ellis in Orlando. “People are going in where existingmasses are and redeveloping the areas with mixed-usedevelopment.”

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Mixed-use developments are still new to Central Florida, so thejury is out as far as success, say the commercial practitioners atRealShare. However, “if you're proactive in your leasing and have agood tenant mix, you can be successful,” said John M. Crossman,president of Crossman & Co. in Orlando. However, he warns,there are challenges to mixed-use development, which can includeresidential condos, office space, retail, medical and more in onelocation. “The biggest challenge is planning. You want to find theright mix and you must find the right partners,” says Michael F.Beale, senior vice president/regional manager of HighwoodsProperties in Orlando. Also, says Beale, “the complexity of thedesign requires you to find the right consulting team–planners,architects–who understand the nuances. One mistake early on canmanifest itself throughout the other phases.”

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Another opportunity for the area is green building, said Moss.“Environmental sustainability is becoming a key factor forcorporate America. You're going to see developers buildingLEED-certified buildings, certainly in the office building market,”said Moss.

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Of course, Florida has its share of unknowns as well. Forexample, the Hometown Democracy amendment has about half of thesignatures it needs to be added to the November 2008 ballot. “Thisamendment would require a public vote for every single compland-use plan change, whether it's fixing a glitch or changing theurban growth line,” explained Hal Kantor, partner with Lowndes,Droskick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A. That's why Florida realestate practitioners are trying to get the word out to the publicthat this amendment would be a disaster. “It would effectively haltthe entitlement process. Properties that have been entitled willgain in value while properties that have not been entitled will bemired in gridlock,” according to Richey.Of course, property taxesand the high cost of property insurance continue to hang like ablack cloud over Florida's real estate market. Although, says SteveMoreira, president of Magic Cos., “By passing the super homesteadexemption, houses will get sold again and B and C office space willget some relief.” Moreira says he realizes that this bill is aquick fix, but he thinks that the issue will continue to berevisited until a permanent fix is in place.Overall, says Moss,“Despite the downturn, opportunities abound for those with ambitionand drive.”

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