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ORLANDO-Locally-based Darden Restaurants Inc., which bills itself as the largest casual seafood restaurant chain in the world, will go down in the real estate record books this year as having paid one of the highest per-sf restaurant-retail prices for a small but strategically located site in south Orlando.

Darden paid Taza Real Estate Inc. $1.8 million, or $208.42 per sf, for the 8,636-sf Taza Restaurant on Sand Lake Road near the 1.8-million-sf Florida Mall. On a per-seat cost basis, the 150-seat property sold for about $12,000 per seat.

Owners of the eight-month-old restaurant, part of the Saudi Arabian company’s expansion plans for metro Orlando, plan a new location in east Orlando, according to Taza’s prepared statement. Mike Halimeh, a broker with Orlando-based Vance Realty, says Taza is also scouting for other Florida development sites.

Halimeh says Darden plans to convert the Taza site into a Smokey Bones Barbeque location later this year. Darden has a Red Lobster restaurant in the same submarket. Darden’s 1,271-restaurant portfolio includes 673 Red Lobsters, 524 Olive Gardens, 39 Smokey Bones and 34 Bahama Breeze restaurants.

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