Avalon Park Group spends time hindering business owners – instead of helping them.
By Jacob Engels
Avalon Park Group has been caught with their hand in the cookie jar. Except it’s not cookies they are stealing, it’s money from the pockets of local entrepreneurs and business owners, by way of exorbitant rent and fees. An investigation by the East Orlando Post has revealed that Avalon Park Group charges its tenants $3 to $7 more a square foot than most other commercial locations in East Orlando. What makes this news?
According to the Florida Department of Transportation, Avalon Park roadways see less than a quarter of the daily traffic of other, cheaper, retail locations. So based on traffic alone, why are tenants of Avalon Park Group paying $3 to $7 more per square foot?
For example, the cost per square foot in Alafaya Commons is around $19. The Florida Department of Transportation estimates 50,000 vehicles travel adjacent roadways. That’s 35,000 more than Avalon Park, and rent is nearly 50% cheaper per square foot than a comparable Avalon Park Group unit.
The other retail spaces near Publix are priced similarly to APG Downtown prices, possibly in a price-fixing bid to keep rental rates at the same high rate all around. That explains what happened to many businesses in the Avalon Publix shopping center, where some spaces have been vacant for years.
Take the old video store space next to Avalon Publix. They want over $9,000 a month for that space. That equates to about the same rate as what APG wants for their Downtown retail spaces. There are questions about whether the company that owns that plaza may in fact be affiliated or in collusion with APG, the details remaining murky (we are currently looking into that company). Whether affiliated with APG or not, I am guessing that APG has some leverage over them so that they have to keep their rates as high as Avalon Downtown, so as not to undercut APG’s rates.
That’s why that space has been empty for 4 years or more – the rent is simply too high. Same with a couple other spaces over the last couple years that remain vacant in that plaza. Heck, many businesses would take that huge space for half the cost. Any sane company would take half the rent for a few years over getting nothing, right? Only if not trying to protect the high rates elsewhere.
So, it must be all the money that Avalon Park Group puts into advertising the Downtown shopping district. And you guessed it…..wrong again. Unlike every other shopping center in East Orlando, Avalon Park Group provides no high-traffic exposure signage to their tenants in return for the higher than average rent and tenant fees, so it is no wonder so many locals don’t know what businesses are there. Why have they not taken part of their windfall and used it to advertise the businesses they are bullying so they can pay them more in rent and tenant fees?
There are a number of advertising moves that would benefit the Avalon Downtown businesses, like signs and billboards placed on major roads nearby. Both of those ideas have been “on the table” but never implemented by APG.
The only signage available in Avalon is on an oddly placed makeshift lamppost device that holds license plate sized placards with little room for legible company names. Oh and as a tenant, you have to pay for that. We have heard that $500 has been the cheapest rate for said license plate style signage.
At this point you must be thinking that there is some type of saving grace, something that would make working with APG a good idea. Avalon is a residential area, an almost perfect suburbia to boot. So, it must be safe? Wrong again.
Over the past several years, East Orlando – Avalon in particular – has experienced a dramatic increase in crime. One Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy told me that Avalon Park is a criminal’s paradise.
“We have a handful of officers patrolling from Dean Road to Chuluota. You are talking about 1 officer per every 75,000 to 100,000 residents. It’s tough for us to get here quick enough. We get more calls – burglary, auto theft, destruction of property in Avalon than anywhere else in East Orlando.”
In recent memory, Avalon Park Jewelers has faced a string of robberies. The most recent and most brazen of those attempts resulted in over one hundred thousand dollars in theft and damages, in the wake of a pack of axe wielding maniacs. Yet, there are business tenants that were never even informed that this took place in their backyard. This sort of event should be cause for at least warning the other businesses in the area.
A lack of proper lighting and improperly trimmed hedges, the responsibility of APG by way of the Common Area Maintenance fees changed to business tenants, has been long talked about as factors that create the perfect storm for the cunning criminal. Skulk in the dark alley and hide behind the hedge if need be while you plot your crime.
But APG has done nothing. Actually, they have fought tenants who have requested better lighting, proper and thorough surveillance, and nighttime security. Sources tell the East Orlando Post that they are more concerned about the cost and suggested tenants pay for those services themselves, despite already paying high Common Area fees.
Avalon Park Group does not pay for advertising, signage, or adequate parking…..and they can’t even invest in protecting their tenants…the ones buttering their bread?
And then there is the parking issue. Even if APG had a change of heart and decided to renounce these tactics which would spur growth and increase business (this is much like the over-taxing of government), new customers of APG tenants would have nowhere to park. Over the past few years, APG has been busy leasing every empty piece of land in Avalon Downtown that they own and opting to build more luxury townhomes and even an old-age facility aptly titled “Encore.” There are currently no plans to address the parking woes. There was, years ago, talk of a parking garage across from Mulberry’s but nothing has come of it. After all, there is not much profit in parking garages, unless it is paid parking (which would not work in Avalon).
You will see that, considering the traffic, lack of signage and advertising, no security or surveillance and lack of parking spaces available, Avalon is actually the least desirable place to be – and yet they are at the top of the list for expense.
Obviously, these factors are important to businesses, especially retail businesses. Not to mention that we are at the literal south-eastern tail end of Orlando metro with nothing around us but a dump, a power plant, and wilderness on 3 sides.
I am sure APG would simply respond to this by saying that they have no vacancies and all the other places around town do, so that makes them superior. That is not the case in reality. They simply have few spaces total, and the area looks attractive. This does lure in small business owners, at least for the short-term. For example, they like to say that Waterford Towers is half vacant. That is not entirely true, they are at about 70% capacity right now. Anyway, Waterford Towers still has three times or more businesses than Avalon does, even with their vacancies – so how does that make them inferior? Over-building is independent from success of those businesses that are there. Plus, there are major chain stores there to draw in crowds. And look at the rent differences! A business owner can get a space in Waterford Towers for $21 per square foot per year (all inclusive), 25% or so less than Avalon – and with a sign on Alafaya.
Then they will also say that they have all of the festivals and events – and the other places do not. That is true, but that also does little to help many of the businesses. The restaurants love it, sure – they hand out beer and food all day long and rake in the money. However, the retail shops and service businesses are used as public restrooms and have to keep a close eye out for thieves, and sometimes have to bring in extra employees – yet another added cost. Sales are not helped much by the festivals (and never have been) according to several past and present tenants.
In fact, many Avalon residents avoid the festivals (I do), and many dislike them because they have trouble finding parking and do not like taking 15 minutes to cover a mile through re-routed crowded roadways.
Shame on APG for beating their business tenants like land masters of old. They already make plenty of money without doing that. Avalon Park is a good neighborhood, and the product of a visionary creator. Why not be reasonable and help rather than hinder? That way, everyone involved would benefit.
They are the “Wolfs of Main Street”- our not so friendly neighborhood “Suburban Raiders,” much like the Gordon Gecko’s of Wall Street – targeting small business owners and entrepreneurial upstarts. In this case, greed is not good. Time to shape up APG. Maybe they will. We shall remain hopeful.
Jacob Engels, is the Founder of East Orlando Post. Along with the Post, he owns several other business and is currently enrolled at Valencia College. Jacob has lived in Avalon Park since it’s founding and enjoys playing with his black Labradoodle Jasper, listening to indie rock, and seeking out new business ventures. He can be reached at email@example.com