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ORLANDO-Downtown Church Street, once a bustling 750,000-sf nighttime entertainment venue but largely dark for the past five years, is getting an adrenalin shot with the planned November opening of the 200-seat Kres Chophouse in the former Pebbles Restaurant.

At the same time, the University of Central Florida wants to open a 100-seat theater at its planned Media Arts Center in a two-story building owned by Budweiser distributor Ford Keine.

The city has tentatively approved both projects and will vote Sept. 15 on $320,000 in cash incentives the developers and UCF are requesting before moving ahead. The estimated redevelopment value of both projects is $5 million, area retail brokers familiar with the Church Street submarket tell GlobeSt.com.

The restaurant project is drawing criticism from some West Church Street merchants after the Downtown Development Board tentatively approved reopening the street to vehicular traffic after being closed for about 10 years. The merchants use the pedestrian-friendly street to put up outdoor cafes and schedule concerts.

But developers Phil Rampy, Craig Ustler and Manny Garcia, partners in the Kres Chophouse project, tell elected city officials they need a portion of West Church Street open to accommodate valet parking patrons. Without the valet parking amenity and the $100,000 gift, the developers say they cannot make their venture profitable.

The developers are asking for a total $100,000 in incentives. The university is asking for $220,000. Rampy, who couldn’t be reached at GlobeSt.com’s deadline, is a member of Mayor Buddy Dyer’s Downtown Strategic Transition Team. Dyer is being criticized by some merchants for showing favoritism toward Rampy, Ustler and Garcia.

“Those three individuals are longtime Downtown developers and have proven to the public that the majority of their projects succeed,” one senior retail broker who may be involved in later Church Street developments, tells GlobeSt.com. “If any favoritism is shown, the taxpayers will get their money back ten-fold when the projects spark a revival of Church Street in the future.”

Downtown Development Board officials confirm for GlobeSt.com the board is trying to work out a compromise with existing merchants and the developers over the reopening of West Church Street.

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