Sunday, May 7, 2017

Former Albertsons #4423 - Winter Park, FL


Xtra Super Food Center - Orlando I / Albertsons #4423
517 S. Semoran Boulevard, Winter Park, FL - University Park Plaza

     While this building could convincingly be some kind of futuristic looking Albertsons prototype store in its current state, this building looked nothing like this when Albertsons still operated here! The story of Albertsons #4423 and its accompanying shopping center has a good bit of backstory to it, which includes how it came into its current state, so let's jump right into this:

     The idea for a large new shopping center at the southeastern corner of University and Semoran Boulevards first came about in 1985, when Birmingham, Alabama based Colonial Properties, Inc. first presented their plans for the new University Park Plaza to be built at this site. University Park Plaza was to be a 500,000 square foot shopping center to be built in two phases, which were named Phase 1 and Phase 2. Phase 1 was the more general retail geared portion of the complex, and the first to be built. When completed in fall 1986, Phase 1 of the University Park complex included 215,000 square feet of retail space, and was anchored by Xtra Super Food Center and Freddy's Discount Drugs, with room for 20 more smaller tenants. In Fall 1987, Bealls Department store joined in as a third anchor to the Phase 1 of the University Park complex. After the completion of Phase 1, Colonial Properties began construction on Phase 2 of the University Park complex. The Phase 2 complex was to be built right at the corner of University and Semoran, north of the Phase 1 complex. According to Colonial Properties, Phase 2 was to include 170,000 square feet of retail space, and was to be filled with anchors that were to "appeal more to women". The anchors of Phase 2, which was completed in Fall 1989, included Waccamaw Home Decor Superstore, Stein Mart, and Baby Super Store. The entire University Park Shopping Center was quite successful early on, and it enjoyed a healthy occupancy rate through the mid-90's. While all the excitement of the new shopping center was playing out in the late 80's and early 90's, a different kind of new business venture was being concocted in the office park immediately behind University Park Plaza. Since 1979, a man named Jon Phelps had tried to establish a new digital arts academy. Beginning in Ohio in 1979, Mr. Phelps later decided Florida would be a better place for his new school. In the early 1980's, Mr. Phelps relocated his school to Altamonte Springs, before ultimately deciding to relocate one last time to an office complex in Winter Park in 1988. Mr. Phelps renovated his space in the office complex into a state-of-the-art school. By investing all of this money into the new space, Mr. Phelps felt that he would be able to attract more students to his school, which would offset the higher rent he was now paying. However, Mr. Phelps plan didn't go as well as he hoped, and into the early 90's, his school, called Full Sail University, was still struggling. In order to try to turn things around, Mr. Phelps brought into his school two new partners, both of which had banking and real estate backgrounds. The three partners decided that to turn things around for Full Sail, they would start a real estate brokerage that would buy, sell, and manage properties for the school. The new brokerage, called Silver City Partners, was founded in 1994, and was supposed to be a way for Full Sail to generate more income through real estate investments to offset the lackluster early enrollment the school was facing. The first major investment made by the brokerage came in 1998, when Silver City bought the entire office complex in which the Full Sail University was housed. This move was to alleviate the school from the high rent they were paying, and let Full Sail now act as landlord to the other tenants in the complex. In the end, it turned out that this real estate investment idea was the key to Full Sail's success. It gave the school more money to invest into attracting students, and later, more flexibility with their expansions. In the coming years Silver City Partners began buying more and more properties in order to expand the school and generate more income. However, I'm sure by now all of you are wondering what all of this college founding/real estate investment stuff has to do with an Albertsons and the shopping center it was in. I'm getting there, don't worry. This is a very long backstory...


     In 1994, University Park Plaza had its first major blow when Xtra Super Food Center announced they were closing their 79,000 square foot store in the plaza on May 14, 1994. The Xtra Super Food Center was the plaza's largest tenant between the two phases, and Colonial Properties was in a bit of a panic to get this space filled. I'm sure many of you may be wondering what exactly Xtra Super Food Center was, as they were a rather obscure piece of Florida supermarket history. In a nutshell, they were a grocery warehouse type retailer (similar to Safeway's Save and Pack chain), run by Puerto Rico-based Pueblo International. While mostly located in South Florida, Xtra did have two Central Florida locations at one point, this one (Winter Park - Orlando I) and a short lived store in Altamonte Springs (Orlando II). Originally, Xtra wanted more than two stores in Central Florida, but they began to fall on hard times by the early 90's and that expansion never panned out. For the next feature post coming up in two weeks, we will be going into much more detail about the history of Xtra Super Food Center and what their stores were like. Because of that, I'll spare everyone the long backstory about them in this post, as this post already contains one really long backstory to begin with!


     Colonial Properties wanted this space filled fast after Xtra closed, and they were able to deliver on that. In late 1994, Colonial Properties was able to attract Albertsons to open a new store in this building, which would serve as a relocation of their much older store (Store #4303) located three quarters of a mile to the north. The new Albertsons would only take up 60,000 or so square feet of the former Xtra building, with the remaining 19,000 square feet becoming home to a Books-A-Million around the same time Albertsons moved in. This is another one of the Albertsons stores I would have loved to visit in person back when it was open. I don't know much about the interior layout of this store, but considering the way the building was designed, I'd imagine it was pretty odd (or at least had a few quirks compared to a new-build Albertsons from this era). This store opened with the typical mid-90's Blue and Gray Market interior, although I think it may have gotten another remodel in the early 2000's (not entirely sure on that, though, but the exterior later in this store's life seemed to suggest that). When we get a look at the satellite images a little later, we'll see that this store was deeper than it was wide. Also, this was the only Albertsons store in Florida to have never had an attached liquor store (or if it did have one, it was hidden and didn't have any signage for it on the exterior). If anyone remembers anything about the way this store was laid out, how it compared to other Albertsons stores from this era, or has any other insight into this store to add, please leave a comment at the end of this post!


     Now here's where I'll begin to explain how the story of the Albertsons intertwines with the story of Full Sail University's founding: Like I said before, Full Sail's real estate management/brokerage arm Silver City Partners began to go on a huge real estate buying spree at the very end of the 90's and into the 2000's as Full Sail began to expand rapidly. In 2002, Silver City purchased Phase 2 of University Park Plaza from Colonial Properties. By 2002, Phase 2 had already lost Waccamaw and Baby Super Store, and was falling on hard times. Since Silver City is working in the interest of Full Sail (aka, leasing space back to the school at a low rate in addition to generating income for the school), Silver City leased the Waccamaw and Baby Superstore spaces to Full Sail as classroom space. By 2004, Stein Mart had been pushed out closed, and that space was also leased back to Full Sail so they could expand into it. By the early 2000's, the entirety of University Park Phase 2 was transformed into a new, expanded campus for Full Sail University, and mostly remodeled to feel more like a college campus than a former shopping center. However, the expansions did not stop there. In 2004, Silver City was also able to acquire the University Park Phase 1 from Colonial Properties. By this time, Albertsons was last major tenant in Phase 1. Bealls had closed, Freddy's went the way of their more famous competitor Phar-Mor, and Books-A-Million had also left. However, there were still a good number of smaller tenants left in Phase 1, including Dollar Tree, Radio Shack, GNC, and a good number of other small restaurants and stores. When Silver City made their initial purchase of the Phase 1 property, they began to convert the empty Freddy's and Bealls anchors into space for the school. Slowly but surely though, the rest of the retail, restaurant, and office tenants began dropping like flies from Phase 1 after Silver City bought the property. Silver City bought these buildings to expand Full Sail's campus, and they weren't renewing any of the leases for the existing tenants (or just pushing them out, one or the other). In August 2009, Albertsons announced they were closing their store in University Park Plaza. According to Albertsons, this closure came because "the store had been underperforming for some time" (a direct quote from an Albertsons representative when the closure was announced). Whether you believe that was the whole story or not is for you to decide, as August 2009 was almost exactly 15 years after this store opened, which seems like a good time for a lease to expire and not be renewed too. Conspiracies and ulterior motives aside, I doubt this store would have lasted much longer than 2009 anyway, even if the landlord was interested in keeping all of the retail tenants in the plaza.


     Albertsons was one of the last retail tenants to remain in University Plaza Phase 1 when they closed. In 2011, work began to convert and expand the former Albertsons space into a modern facility to house more classrooms and sound stages for Full Sail University. If you want more detail on what exactly is in here now, you can read this statement released by Full Sail. The blue glass facade was chosen for this building as a modern way to incorporate this building into the color palette of the rest of the campus, according to that statement from the school. While the remodeled facade does look pretty neat, not a trace of Albertsons or Xtra Super Food Center is left behind all of that fancy blue glass.


     The backstory of this plaza, the Albertsons, and Full Sail's expansion plans was able to get us a good bit of the way through this post. I guess that worked out well, as there really isn't much to say about this place in its current state, at least regarding any remains of its past tenants.


     This is the main entryway into the classroom building. This entryway is located in approximately the same area as where Albertsons' entryway was.


     One final overview of the former Albertsons space before we move on to some photos of the rest of the plaza...


     Speaking of the rest of the plaza, here's a little diagram I put together showing where each of the major tenants were located. Phase 1 is the portion of the plaza to the right, and Phase 2 is the portion to the left. Pretty much everything you see here (with the exception of the outparcel restaurants, although Silver City owns most of those properties too) is now a part of Full Sail's main campus. In addition to the two plazas, Full Sail still maintains their offices and classrooms in the office complex behind the plazas. In the end, Full Sail ended up creating one very unique campus by weaving together two shopping centers and an office building.


     While the Albertsons building is completely unrecognizable now, the rest of the plaza still retains its original design from when it first opened. In the photo above, you can see the portion of the plaza that juts out from the left side of the old Albertsons, including the former Bealls Department Store.


    The former Bealls space is to my right, with the old Freddy's off in the distance (the other rectangular facade).


     To the left of the old Freddy's space resides the last of the retail and restaurant tenants from the days before Silver City purchased this property: Firehouse Subs. I think the only reason that Firehouse Subs is still here is because Full Sail considers them one of their food options on campus, so I doubt they are going to get kicked out from here like all of the other restaurants in this strip were. I'd imagine Full Sail would have kicked them out from here by now if that wasn't the case.


     In addition to Firehouse Subs, there are a good number of other restaurants located on outparcels of the University Park Plaza property. One of these restaurants is Crispers. Crispers is a healthy option fast casual restaurant that was founded in Lakeland in 1989. The interesting thing about Crispers is that in 2002, Publix made a major investment in the company. Publix's involvement in the company led Crispers to expand throughout much of Florida, reaching around 50 or so locations at their peak. Due to the success, Publix bought out Crispers entirely in 2007. However, Crispers began to not do so well under Publix's ownership, and locations began closing. During Publix's ownership, Crispers' CEO was also convicted of embezzling $400,000 from the company, which wasn't a positive thing for the company either. In 2011, Publix got out of the restaurant business and sold off Crispers to Healthy Food Concepts, LLC. Crispers now has 24 locations throughout Florida after their late 2000's decline, the majority of which are located along the I-4 Corridor.


     That's about all there is to see here anymore in relation to the former Albertsons and this plaza's retail days. I don't have any pictures of University Park Phase 2, but it's the same story over there as we saw here. The most interesting part of Phase 2 is that the old Waccamaw building is relatively in-tact from the exterior, which you can see here.

     Now it's time to look at some aerial images, beginning with Bird's Eye aerial images courtesy of Bing Maps:


Front and Right Side - These images must have been captured around 2010 or so, as the Albertsons/Xtra Super Food Center facade is still in tact, but Albertsons is gone.


Right Side and Back


Back and Left Side


Left Side and Front

     Now time for some historic aerial images, courtesy of Google Earth and Historicaerials.com:


Former Albertsons #4423 - 2016 - Class must not have been in this day.


Former Albertsons #4423 - 2012 - Here we can see the conversion of this space from an empty Albertsons into classrooms for Full Sail University.


Former Albertsons #4423 - 2010


Albertsons #4423 - 2006


Albertsons #4423 - 2002


Albertsons #4423 - 1999


Future Albertsons #4423 - 1994 - This image was dated as March 1994, which was only a month before Xtra was to announce their closure here.


Future Albertsons #4423 - 1980


     Time after time, Orange County's outdated property record photos always come to my rescue! Here we can see ol' #4423 back when it was still an Albertsons in November 2006. I don't believe any of that decorative facade where the Albertsons sign is in the photo was there when Xtra was in the building, although I believe all of the brickwork was from Xtra. Albertsons carved out their entrance from a portion of the wall when they opened, as they only took up the left portion of the large space Xtra left behind. The texturing behind the Albertsons sign looks like it was added during a late 90's or early 2000's remodel, which could have meant the interior was also updated around that time as well. Like I said before, if anyone has any more insight on this store, please let everyone know by leaving a comment below!


     To the immediate right of the Albertsons portion of the building we can see the former Books-A-Million space. Books-A-Million had the portion of the building where Xtra's main entrance was located, which was located under those two arches.

     Like I mentioned earlier, the next feature post in two weeks will be all about Xtra Super Food Center. If you're still fuzzy on what Xtra was or you're just curious to know more about what they were, or maybe you just want to relive some memories of Xtra Super Food Center, be sure to check back on the 21st for that! It's a pretty cool former Xtra Super Food Center we will be taking a look at, and much better preserved one than this one was!

So until then,

The Albertsons Florida Blogger

4 comments:

  1. I was really disappointed to hear that Albertsons did not use all 79k square feet of the former Xtra, even subtracting for the liquor store, especially since they DID occupy the Jewel-Osco stores. It also looks like FSU added a second level to the rear of the building--notice how the walls are taller on the rear side. Of course, this is mentioned in the press release.

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    1. Considering those former Jewel-Osco stores were all around 70,000 square feet, and that Albertsons tried at least one conversion of a giant Schwegmann store in Louisiana around the same time, they could have easily done something with the entire 79,000 square foot building if they wanted. I wonder if the landlord signed on Books-A-Million before they signed on Albertsons. Interestingly, that second level was only added over the back former Albertsons space (it ends right where the partition between Albertsons and Books-A-Million would have been).

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  2. That was a very interesting and informative post! I actually have wondered how Full Sail University came about. Now I know! It sounds like all along Silver Properties was interested in eventually taking over this whole plaza. I also doubt Albertsons would have lasted any more than a year here considering many other stores were closing in Orlando during that time frame. I have a friend who attended Full Sail during the 2005-2006 time frame. I'll have to ask him what he remembers about this place (especially if he has any recollection of the Albertsons).

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    1. Thanks! And even Albertsons had a part in the history of Full Sail University! Considering there wasn't much room for Full Sail to expand in this area by building new, their strategy of taking over the neighboring shopping centers worked for them in the end. As strange as the campus may seem being mostly comprised of old shopping center buildings, they make it work and it doesn't seem to strange when you visit the college in person. Please let us know if you are able to come up with any other information about this place!

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