ORLANDO-Florida may be saddled with unknowns in the areas of property insurance, taxes and hometown democracy–the amendment that calls for all citizens to vote for any change to the comprehensive land-use plan. But the Central Florida area is ripe for the commercial real estate industry, according to experts at the RealShare Central Florida conference, held at the Gaylord Palms in Orlando.

More than 300 commercial practitioners attended the RealShare Central Florida conference. The RealShare Series is produced by Real Estate Media, publisher of GlobeSt.com, Real Estate Forum and Real Estate Florida.From the popularity and success of mixed-use development and continued population growth to the green building movement and low unemployment rates, commercial opportunities flourish. “The market will rise slowly, and we’re not in as dire a situation as some have predicted,” said Sean Snaith, director of the Institute of Economic Competitiveness at the University of Central Florida in Orlando. “Central Florida has job growth and personal income growth,” he says.

In addition, Snaith says that net population will continue to grow, with Orlando being the top area in the state for job growth by 2010. “It’s amazing the number of bioscience companies we’re seeing move to Florida,” says Larry Richey, senior managing director, Cushman & Wakefield, Orlando and Tampa.

With job and population growth comes opportunity. “We’re seeing a major trend right now with infill redevelopment opportunities in the inner cores,” said Bill Moss, senior managing director of CB Richard Ellis in Orlando. “People are going in where existing masses are and redeveloping the areas with mixed-use development.”

Mixed-use developments are still new to Central Florida, so the jury is out as far as success, say the commercial practitioners at RealShare. However, “if you’re proactive in your leasing and have a good 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 include residential condos, office space, retail, medical and more in one location.

“The biggest challenge is planning. You want to find the right mix and you must find the right partners,” said Michael F. Beale, SVP and regional manager of Highwoods Properties in Orlando. Also, said Beale, “the complexity of the design requires you to find the right consulting team–planners, architects–who understand the nuances. One mistake early on can manifest itself throughout the other phases.”

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

Florida has its share of unknowns. For example, the Hometown Democracy amendment has about half of the signatures it needs to be added to the November 2008 ballot. “This amendment would require a public vote for every single comp land-use plan change, whether it’s fixing a glitch or changing the urban growth line,” explained Hal Kantor, partner with Lowndes, Droskick, Doster, Kantor & Reed, P.A. That’s why Florida real estate practitioners are trying to get the word out to the public that this amendment would be a disaster.

“It would effectively halt the entitlement process. Properties that have been entitled will gain in value, while properties that have not been entitled will be mired in gridlock,” according to Richey.Property taxes and the high cost of property insurance continue to hang like a black cloud over Florida’s real estate market. Although, said Steve Moreira, president of Magic Cos., “By passing the super homestead exemption, houses will get sold again and B and C office space will get some relief.” Moreira said he realizes that this bill is a quick fix, but he thinks that the issue will continue to be revisited until a permanent fix is in place.Overall, Moss concluded, “Despite the downturn, opportunities abound for those with ambition and drive.”

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