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ORLANDO-Pointe Orlando, a 450,000-sf, open-air shopping and entertainment emporium in the city’s major tourist corridor, is getting a $10-million facelift which owner New Plan Excel Realty Inc. of New York hopes will resurrect the 83%-leased property.

FAO Schwarz, Pointe Orlando’s anchor tenant and key customer draw, closed its toy store earlier this year. This will be the center’s second renovation after its 2001 changes. The 17-acre center at 9101 International Dr. was completed in late 1998 after several contract-related lawsuits with general contractors and subcontractors.

How successful the second renovation will be is an unanswered issue with the area’s retail brokerage community. “It certainly has the single, most important element going for it–location,” says Dean Fritchen, a senior associate in the Winter Park office of Coldwell Banker Commercial NRT. Pointe Orlando is directly across from the four-million-sf Orange County Convention Center.

John M. Crossman, senior vice president of Trammell Crow Co.’s Southeast retail investment division, agrees with Fritchen that the property’s location is “great.” He says the renovation will help.

“Consumers typically respond well to renovations,” Crossman tells GlobeSt.com. “The key will be marketing. Their director of marketing will need to have a great relationship with the convention center and all the area hotels, as well as having a good rep with bus drivers, cabbies and travel agents.” He adds, “There is lots of competition (on International Drive) so they need to separate themselves from the pack.”

Expected to be one of metro Orlando’s high-flying shopping and entertainment centers when it opened at year end in 1998, Pointe Orlando never reached the level most retail consultants had projected for the property.

“It has had some challenges,” Crossman says. “The layout and having to pay for parking was a turnoff for locals. But it has really been a combination of things–competition [the 1.3-million-sf Mall of Millennia is impacting everyone] has been the biggest issue.”

Other factors the broker cites are “tourism dips post 9-11″ and the FAO Schwarz vacancy. “I have been concerned about I-Drive as a whole for a couple of years and now we see several properties in bankruptcy,” Crossman says.

He adds, “New Plan is a great company and has very competent people. I feel confident that they will turn it around–but I don’t feel that way about several other projects [on International Drive].”In an address to the recent International Council of Shopping Centers convention here, Crossman said there is no question that Pointe Orlando “has taken a hit with the loss of FAO Schwarz, as well as Zainy Brainy.” He said “several shopping centers on I-Drive are in bankruptcy, and in order to stay profitable, could possibly be redeveloped into non-retail uses.”

FAO Schwarz occupied about 80,000 sf out of the total 240,000 sf of retail at Pointe Orlando, according to area brokers familiar with the asset. How much rentable retail space will be available after the current renovations is still undetermined, brokers say.

The estimated average asking base rent is $27 per sf with some rents at the $30 per-sf to $40-per-sf level, knowledgeable area retail brokers tell GlobeSt.com. New Plan Excel Realty plans to add at least three new restaurants with outdoor seating at the sound end of the shopping center where most of the renovations are planned.

“The open-air phenomenon is another main reason for the incredible surge in [new retail[ development" in metro Orlando, Crossman told about 1,500 members attending the ICSC. "Central Florida has some of the leading town center, lifestyle center and mixed-used developments throughout the state of Florida."

David W. Marks, president, MarketPlace Advisors Inc., Maitland, a national retail consulting firm, agrees with Crossman that the timing is right for a renovation at Pointe Orlando. "The original design was too introverted and was poorly landscaped," Marks says. "Plaza International [the submarket in which Pointe Orlando is located] has been getting more urban over the last few years from its original suburban design.”

Marks says, “Pedestrians are walking down International Drive from the Convention Center to areas north of Pointe Orlando. With the growth of the Convention Center and the hotel rooms that are in walking distance, the property [Pointe Orlando] should start to reach its potential.”

The consultant adds, “The new design plans on opening up the project to International Drive, allowing the tourist to see more activity and shops in the project. I think their plans will be a major shot in the arm for the project.”

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