Shoppers should expect to see the Oviedo Mall getting spruced up by next week.
Oviedo Special Magistrate Howard Marsee ordered four of the parties who own property at the mall to start work to improve their landscaping, parking lot conditions, lighting and signage by Nov. 30 or face daily $125 fines. They were also ordered to submit a plan for major improvements to the exterior of their properties by March 15 to the city or face daily $250 fines.
The property owners were summoned to a special magistrate hearing on Nov. 18 after the city issued 18 code enforcement citations over the course of two years. Violations include dead trees in medians, leaves piled up along curbs and weeds several feet high in some places. There were some more dangerous violations such as disappearing parking lot stripes, severely faded directional signs on the roadway surrounding the mall, which is considered to be mall property, and toppled road signs.
Kevin Hipes, Oviedo Mall development director, said that when the pandemic forced the mall to shut down for several months and lay off most of its staff and squeezed its tenants’ pocketbooks to the point where they could not pay rent, it cut back on expenses, such as landscape upkeep. He also said he was waiting for the mall’s eventual redevelopment to make any significant changes to the mall’s exterior. He spoke on behalf of Oviedo Mall Holding, which is responsible for the maintenance of 50 of the mall’s 90 total acres.
“When COVID hit, it crushed the mall,” Hipes said. “I’m not saying this place was ever kept up the way it should have been. The mall had a bad reputation for many years but I want to change that.”
Hipes asked Marsee to approve a downgraded improvement plan that the mall could complete in phases over one to two years in order to reduce the cost burden and allow it more flexibility as it’s redeveloped. But in the end, all owners were ordered to bring the mall into compliance with the landscaping and maintenance standards established in 1997. Some of these standards have never been met. For instance, there are nearly 150 trees missing from the property that were required in the original plan.
Developer Marc Hagle bought the 180,000 square-foot former Macy’s property within the mall with plans to construct 425 apartments — 175 of which are planned to be age restricted — and a 124-room hotel. The project is expected to go before the City Council for final approval on Dec. 6.
During the magistrate hearing, Hagle said the lack of maintenance to the mall’s exterior has cost the project several potential investors, and he said that he might not be willing to invest in the project if the mall is not kept to a certain standard.
“I’m not going to put in the 20 million dollars of cash equity that I would need, supplementing the loan I would get, in order to be able to build this project if I don’t have confidence that the mall owners are willing to put in a few million dollars just to bring it to standard and demonstrate to the public that this mall’s going to be there a couple of years from now. Why would I do that?” he said. “Why would anybody do that? Would you build your house in a neighborhood that is fully deteriorated? I don’t think so.”
Hipes showed photos of boarded up windows, tall weeds and moldy walls on Hagle’s property during the hearing. Hagle said the property management company he used was fired after he received the violation from the city, and the property has since been brought into “safe” and “clean” conditions.
While Hagle must comply with the magistrate’s order to start improvements on the property by Nov. 30, the order said that with consent from the city, he may be able to postpone restoration on his portion of property because of his pending redevelopment plan.
The other mall property owners are Dillard’s department store and Oviedo Fund LLC, which owns the 12 acres of undeveloped land within the mall property. Both Dillard’s’ representative, Paul D’Arelli, and Oviedo Fund’s representative, Jo Thacker, said they hired a landscaping company to clean up their properties after receiving the city’s violation notice. D’Arelli said they typically pay the Oviedo Mall owner to maintain their landscaping and that the mall will reimburse them the $5,200 they spent to make improvements.
Hipes also said Oviedo Mall Holding has started working on the property. He estimates that bringing the mall up to the 1997 standards will cost about $100,000 but he worries that planting 150 more trees will be impossible because of spacing issues. He also said he has future redevelopment plans for the mall that conflict with some of the 1997 landscaping plan. He said he envisions filling the old Sears property with office space and converting the garage outside of Sears into a steakhouse restaurant.
“At the end of the day, it’s a good thing [adhering to the 1997 standards],” he said. “I just don’t want to put the trees back in because I think they’ll die or have to be ripped out.”
After the property owners submit their landscaping plans they must be approved by the Oviedo City Council. Once approved, the owners have 180 days to complete the plans or they’ll be subject to $250-per-day fines.
Watch the Nov. 18 hearing